The wind kicked up as predicted Friday and temperatures soared around the West as firefighters toiled to keep more homes, dry forests and stretches of high desert from being consumed by several wildfires burning throughout the Southwest.
Along the New Mexico-Colorado border, the wind got stronger as the afternoon progressed, testing fire lines that had been cleared through the rugged wooded area by bulldozers. Flags at the incident command post were whipping.
Fire officials said the water-dropping helicopters and air tankers were still able to help ground crews.
“It’s going to be a challenge for our firefighters along the northern and eastern sides of the fire,” said fire information officer Tim Evans. “Spotting is likely to occur in those areas as the winds push the fire toward the north and east.”
In southern Arizona, the wind also helped fan the flames of two wildfires that had charred nearly 225,000 acres. One of the fires near Sierra Vista continued to push down a canyon Friday afternoon, forcing more residents from their homes and putting others on notice that they might have to leave.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer flew over the area in Cochise County that was blackened by the Monument and Horseshoe II fires. She declared an emergency Friday, freeing up state funds to help with the firefighting efforts.
Fire managers were initially concerned that the wind would be strong enough to ground aircraft that have been dropping water and fire-suppression chemicals on the fire near Sierra Vista. That hadn’t happened by mid-afternoon, meaning crews were able to make more progress against the fire, said fire information officer Bill Paxton.
The blaze has burned 18,580 acres, or 29 square miles, and containment was 15 percent. It has destroyed at least 40 homes as well as other structures.
Investigators said the fire was human-caused, but they have not determined who started it.