Wind will be a force to reckon with on Southwest wildfires

Flagstaff, Ariz.: Fire managers across the Southwest are reckoning with strong winds that forecasters say could lead to explosive growth in wildfires this week. Hundreds of people were evacuated in numerous blazes that have scorched structures and signaled an early start to the fire season.

A wildfire on the outskirts of Flagstaff continued its run Wednesday through dry grass and scattered Ponderosa pines around homes into volcanic cinder fields, where roots underground can combust and send small rocks flying into the air, fire officials said. Aircraft were grounded for a second day due to high winds, and a major northern Arizona highway remained closed as smoke shrouded the air.

Winds are expected to ramp up Thursday after easing up a bit Wednesday. Friday has a chance of precipitation but even stronger winds followed by a dry forecast into next week said Brian Klimowski of the National Weather Service.

“Folks, we have entered our fire season,” he said. “It’s going to be a long one this year.”

Resources are tight around the Southwest as multiple wildfires burn. Four of the 16 top-level national fire management teams are dedicated to blazes in Arizona and New Mexico — something fire information officer Dick Fleishman said is rare this early in the season.

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