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  1. Wildfire in eastern Arizona: New fires erupt in California as heatwave sears Southwest

Wildfire in eastern Arizona: New fires erupt in California as heatwave sears Southwest

New wildfires erupted Monday near Los Angeles and chased people from their suburban homes as an intense heatwave stretching from the West Coast to New Mexico blistered the region.

By: | Los Angeles | Updated: June 21, 2016 4:57 PM
Fires raging in California, New Mexico and Arizona have grown in size and burned thousands of acres of land (AFP) Fires raging in California, New Mexico and Arizona have grown in size and burned thousands of acres of land (AFP)

New wildfires erupted Monday near Los Angeles and chased people from their suburban homes as an intense heatwave stretching from the West Coast to New Mexico blistered the region.

Towering columns of smoke rose from the San Gabriel Mountains as two fires burning less than 2 miles apart devoured brush on steep slopes above foothill suburbs.

Police in the city of Azusa and parts of Duarte ordered several hundred homes evacuated. Others were under voluntary evacuations.

A stubborn wildfire stoked by triple-digit temperatures raged for a sixth day outside Santa Barbara in coastal Southern California on Monday as crews worked to keep the blaze some have called a “sleeping giant” in check, officials said.

So far, the so-called Sherpa Fire burning in chaparral and tall grass about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Santa Barbara has led to the evacuation of hundreds of residents from ranches and campgrounds in the hilly area.

Authorities said they expected to begin allowing homeowners and farm laborers back into those areas on Wednesday, though county health and environment officials issued an air quality warning for smoke and falling ash from the fire.

The tally of acreage burned held at nearly 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) since late Sunday, said Jim Schwarber, a spokesman for the multi-agency team combating the blaze.

The fire, which broke out last Wednesday in the Los Padres National Forest and was 54 percent contained by Monday, has been called a sleeping giant due to the triple-digit temperatures and dense, bone-dry brush in the area that has not burned in decades, he said.

“We’re working hard to keep that giant contained so it doesn’t wake up,” Schwarber said.

More than 1,900 firefighters were assigned to the blaze.

“Red flag warnings” were also posted for the mountains around Los Angeles on Monday as two fires erupted in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest north of the city.

About 160 miles farther south, firefighters battled flames roaring through dry brush and chaparral near the Mexican border for a second day, keeping the desert community of Potrero under evacuation.

That fire, about 50 miles southeast of San Diego, had charred more than 1,900 acres and was just 5 percent contained on Monday, California fire officials reported.

Two states away, the 6-day-old Dog Head Fire in central New Mexico has charred more than 17,000 acres and was 9 percent contained after destroying 24 homes.

Here are the LIVE updates (in local time):

12:37 am: Jabsa ‏@JabsaJwojtowicz:
“Such a hard story to hear about these wildfires that keep spreading! Living in an uncontrollable heated environment! Amazing! #wildfire”

12:15 am: At least four people have died from the blistering heat that has gripped the western United States and sparked wildfire warnings across the region, authorities have said.

The dead were three hikers and a mountain biker who succumbed to the heatwave in Arizona on Sunday, where record-breaking temperatures were reported in some areas.

Larry Subervi, spokesman for the Phoenix fire department, said one of the victims was an experienced 28-year-old female mountain biker who had embarked on a two-and-a-half-hour ride in the Phoenix area with enough water but got overwhelmed by the heat.

The other victims were a 25-year-old man who died while hiking on the Peralta Trail near Gold Canyon, a 19-year-old woman who died while hiking in the Tuscon area and a man who was found dead near another trail.

“We have a heatwave every year, but we are close to our all-time record in 1990 of 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 Celsius),” he told AFP.

He said temperatures on Sunday had soared to 120 degrees and the crushing heat was expected to get worse yesterday before easing the rest of the week.

The heatwave has fed wildfires in California, New Mexico and Arizona, forcing evacuations in some areas.

Some 140 families were evacuated in the Santa Barbara area of California where some 2,000 firefighters for several days have been battling the so-called Sherpa fire that has already burned nearly 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares).

In New Mexico, the Dog Head fire about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Albuquerque has also damaged two dozen homes and scorched nearly 18,000 acres, forcing evacuations, officials said.

They said that as of last morning, only nine per cent of the fire had been contained.

Another fire caused by lightning near Cibola National Forest, in New Mexico, has eaten up more than 36,000 acres and was 30 percent contained.

The fire, which started on May 21, was expected to be contained by late July.

11:33 pm: I AmAnda ‏@AmAnDayinCA:
“Western #heatwave just the beginning of #Summer2016 #wildfire warnings. ”

11:25 pm: Emergency Traffic ‏@EmrgncyNewsWire
“More Evacuations As #Wildfire Near San Diego-Mexico Border Grows”

11:02 pm: Emergency Traffic ‏@EmrgncyNewsWire:
“2 Wildfires Explode; Homes, Campsites Evacuated; Roads Closed”

10:45 pm:

Three other people reportedly died in the Tucson area, including a 57-year-old German national — identified as Stefan Guenster — who was hiking with two other fellow Germans on the Ventana Trail early Sunday

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department, located in Tucson, said one of the men was able to make it down the trail to get help.

Rescuers found Guenster dead near the trail and the third man, identified as 33-year-old Marcus Turowski, is still missing.

The other victim was identified as a 54-year-old woman who went for a walk along a path known as The Loop and was found dead after her husband reported her missing.

10:32 pm: 

At least four people, including a German man, have died from the blistering heat that has gripped the western United States and sparked wildfires and evacuations across the region, authorities said Monday.

Three hikers and a mountain biker succumbed to the heatwave in Arizona on Sunday, where record-breaking temperatures were reported in some areas.

Larry Subervi, spokesman for the Phoenix fire department, said one of the victims was an experienced 28-year-old female mountain biker who had embarked on a two-and-a-half-hour ride in the Phoenix area with enough water but got overwhelmed by the heat.

10:01 pm: PNW VOST ‏@pnwvost:
“#Oregon Dept of Forestry: Break from #wildfire activity may be coming to an end”

9:46 pm: Tim Melino ‏@TimMelino:
“The Latest: Some New Mexico #WILDFIRE Evacuees Going Home”

9:28 pm: Ben@captflyer:
“I haven’t heard a PSA about not flying drones near the fire areas. Drones up, aircraft can’t fly. DANGEROUS”

9:19 pm: Jesse Friedow ‏@JFriedowEMT:
#wildfire in The Dalles 45 acres. Forward progress stopped”

9:02 pm: Joseph Fenity ‏@JosephFenity:
“Joseph Fenity Retweeted Josh Rubenstein
California #wildfire too dangerous for #helicopter pilots? Is this where #drones like @UpSonder come in??”

7:30 pm:
Some residents in central New Mexico who have been forced to evacuate their homes due to a wildfire will be allowed to go back home Tuesday.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department made the announcement Monday evening at a community meeting in Moriarty.

Evacuees living in Torrance County south of La Para also will be able to return home starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

County sheriff’s deputies, National Guard and state police officers will be stationed along main roads to check people’s identification as they return home.

The wildfire that has destroyed two dozen homes as it raced across 28 square miles of tinder-dry forest in the Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque showed signs of slowing down thanks to more favorable weather Monday.

Gov. Susana Martinez directed the New Mexico National Guard over the weekend to take extra measures to secure the communities against any threats of looting and to prepare for post-fire flooding once summer rains develop.

7 pm:
Authorities plan to slowly lift evacuation orders for a blaze that has been burning for nearly a week in coastal mountains west of Santa Barbara, California.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office says people will be allowed to return to the majority of mandatory evacuation areas, which include mountain homes, ranches and farms, starting at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Most of the rest, including the popular campground at Refugio State Beach, are tentatively scheduled to be lifted Saturday.

Another popular campground, El Capitan State Beach, will remain closed until mid-July.

The announcements came Monday night after firefighters were able to maintain containment lines around the 12-square-mile blaze despite a day of strong winds and high heat. It is 54 percent contained.

The fire had threatened some 270 homes and other buildings after breaking out on Thursday.

6:05 pm:
Authorities say two new and surging wildfires in the Southern California suburbs are burning away from hundreds of evacuated homes, but a change in winds could bring serious danger.

The first of the fires in the Azusa area was sparked by a fatal car crash. Within a few hours Monday, it had grown to over 2 square miles.

The second fire began burning just a few miles away in the Duarte area, but it’s closer to homes than the first. The cause of the second fire is not yet known.

Los Angeles County Deputy Chief John B. Tripp says hundreds of houses were quickly evacuated.

But the blaze started burning away from the foothill houses and into the Angeles National Forest.

Tripp says despite that stroke of luck, nighttime winds pushing the blaze back toward the homes are a strong possibility.

4:30 pm:
Tawni Atencio was on the way to basketball practice with her mother when her stepfather called and told them they had to evacuate their home northeast of Los Angeles because of a wildfire.

The 17-year-old Atencio says her mom turned the car around Monday and drove straight to their home in Bradbury, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

They went back to get family photos, their two dogs, clothes, and their five cars and a boat.

Atencio says the flames were just a couple miles from their home and were making the house hot despite air conditioning.

The teenager says the fire is crazy and scary but also that it was ”kind of cool” watching helicopters drop retardant on the blaze.

Atencio says she’s at a friend’s house in Long Beach, California, while her family finishes evacuating.
She says the family is praying their home stays safe.

3 p.m:
Authorities say a wildfire in eastern Arizona that doubled in size to nearly 42 square miles is burning in an area with sparse vegetation.

Navajo County spokesman Adam Wolfe said Monday afternoon that 300 residents of the community of Cedar Creek have been warned to prepare to leave. He says the southern edge of the fire is still about 2{ miles north of the community.

Multiagency operations chief Todd Abel says the fire isn’t moving quickly toward Cedar Creek because of shifting winds.

Some 770 firefighters are fighting the fire along with 37 engines, seven bulldozers, 11 water tenders, seven helicopters and four single-engine air tankers. Fire officials say additional resources have been ordered.

The fire began Wednesday and its cause is under investigation.

2:45 pm:
A few dozen firefighters are battling a blaze that ignited in the heart of a popular recreation area in northern New Mexico.

The fire has charred just a few acres, but officials with the Santa Fe National Forest are considering some youth camps and campgrounds threatened. They are the Battleship Rock campground and picnic area, Jemez Falls campground, Hummingbird Music Camp and YMCA Camp Shaver.

Both camps posted social media updates saying the facilities were fine and there was no immediate threat.

The fire was human-caused, and there was no containment as of Monday afternoon.
It was first spotted Sunday, and officials said the potential for it to grow was high given heavy fuels in the area. Officials say the fire is burning in steep terrain that’s difficult to access.

1:15 pm:
Two fires have erupted in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles amid withering heat.

The first fire reported Monday was near Morris Reservoir north of suburban Azusa. Angeles National

Forest spokesman Nathan Judy says it has spread over 200 acres.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Gustavo Medina says the other fire was reported near the city of Duarte.

That fire has quickly spread over 100 acres, but no structures are threatened and there are no evacuations.

Officials say the second blaze was not caused by the first fire because the distance is too great.

Air tankers and helicopters are battling both fires, which are sending towering columns of smoke into the sky.

Temperatures at many locations across the region soared above 100 degrees by midmorning.

12:20 pm:
A forest fire has erupted in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles amid withering heat.

The fire was reported about 11 a.m. Monday near Morris Reservoir north of suburban Azusa.

Angeles National Forest spokesman Nathan Judy says helicopters are on the scene and air tankers have been ordered.

The helicopters are sucking water from the reservoir to battle flames climbing steep mountainsides.

Temperatures at many locations across Los Angeles County have topped 100 degrees.

Significant wildfires are also burning elsewhere in Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico.

10:30 am:
A blaze that destroyed two dozen homes and numerous other structures while racing across 28 square miles of tinder-dry forest in central New Mexico is finally showing signs of slowing down thanks to more favorable weather.

Hundreds of firefighters took advantage Monday of double-digit humidity levels, relatively cooler temperatures and clouds to build on progress made over the weekend.

Crews have established at least some kind of line all the way around the fire burning in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque.

Still, fire information officer James Stone says the blaze is considered only 9 percent contained. Crews are working to bolster those lines to ensure there’s no chance of the flames running beyond the perimeter.

7:50 am:
Southern California firefighters are in for another day of brutal conditions as they battle wildfires.
The National Weather Service says Monday will be the peak of the heat wave that has already brought record-breaking, triple-digit heat to the region.

Despite the conditions, firefighters report a slight increase in containment of the fire burning in rugged terrain west of Santa Barbara since last week.

The blaze is now 54 percent surrounded and remains at just over 12 square miles.

Southeast of San Diego, however, a wildfire near the town of Potrero grew by several hundred acres overnight and is now estimated at nearly 3 square miles, with just 5 percent containment.

Significant fires are also burning in New Mexico and Arizona.

3 pm: Authorities say a wildfire in eastern Arizona that doubled in size to nearly 42 square miles is burning in an area with sparse vegetation.

Navajo County spokesman Adam Wolfe said Monday afternoon that 300 residents of the community of Cedar Creek have been warned to prepare to leave. He says the southern edge of the fire is still about 2{ miles north of the community.

(with inputs from Associated Press, Reuters, AFP)

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