Calmer winds promise relief to western U.S. fire crews
SANTA FE, New Mexico
SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - Calmer winds and cooler temperatures promised relief on Sunday to fire crews battling blazes in New Mexico and Colorado, where wildfires sweeping across miles of forest, brush and grass have forced evacuations and disrupted holiday weekend travel plans.
New Mexico's wildfires - which are torching tens of thousands of acres daily - have proven difficult for fire crews to contain because of the high winds and rugged, inaccessible terrain found in the southwestern part of the state.
Officials said they were hopeful that Sunday's calmer winds would slow the fires' movements and allow greater use of five helicopters, said Fire Information Officer Dan Ware.
Recreational trails in the Gila National Forest were closed this weekend and officials evacuated Mogollon, a historic Wild West mining outpost that is now nearly a ghost town.
"We're looking forward to a lighter day in terms of wind, which should slow the fire down. But we're expecting to see some extreme fire today, mostly because of the terrain and the kind of fuel in front of this fire," Ware said.
More than 600 workers are fighting the blaze.
Extremely dry late-spring weather and gusting winds have also swept wildfires across Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, and Utah, with more than 200 square miles of rugged land consumed by the blazes.
Two wind-driven wildfires burning in western Colorado have forced the evacuation of recreational areas and campgrounds during the busy holiday weekend, fire managers said on Sunday.
The larger of the two blazes, the Sunrise Mine fire, has scorched 5,000 acres in remote canyons along the Colorado-Utah border, said Mike Davis, spokesman for the Montrose Interagency Fire Management Unit.
Authorities ordered the evacuation of the Buckeye Reservoir and two other recreational areas and closed two roads leading into the area north of Paradox, Colorado, Davis said.
He said because of billowing smoke from high winds, fire managers have been unable to put a containment figure on the blaze. No structures have been lost, and no injuries have been reported.
Meanwhile, the Little Sand fire has blackened 2,325 acres northwest of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, prompting the closure of more than a half-dozen campsites, incident spokeswoman Pam Wilson said.
Wilson said the lightning-sparked blaze was "creeping along the forest floor" for the last two weeks before high winds fanned the flames on Saturday.
"We had winds in excess of 60 miles an hour that really kicked it up," she said.
Decreasing winds, and cooler temperature forecast for Sunday should aid firefighting efforts, she added.
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