Gusty winds fuel wildfires in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado


ALBEQUERQUE, NM (AP) — More than 5,000 firefighters battled several dry and windy wildfires Thursday in the Southwest, including a blaze that destroyed dozens of structures in West Texas and another that is gaining momentum in New Mexico.

Evacuation orders remained in place for residents near wildfires in Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.

Dangerous fires involving gusty winds, high temperatures and extremely low humidity are expected to continue through Friday – particularly in New Mexico, where the largest US wildfire has burned for more than a month and the governor expects the number of destroyed structures to exceed 1,000.

More than 2,100 firefighters battled the blaze, which burned more than 473 square miles (1,225 square kilometers) of woods and brush in an area east of Santa Fe and south of Taos. Only about a third of the perimeter of the fire is estimated to be under control.

With winds blowing up to 40 mph (64 kph), red flag warnings of extreme wildfire danger were in effect until 10 p.m. – much later at night than usual. Gusts closer to 50 mph (80 km/h) were expected on Friday, said wildfire meteorologist Bladen Breitreiter.

In Texas, the Texas A&M Forestry Service said the blaze that burned dozens of homes was still only 5% contained Thursday afternoon after charring more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) of juniper trees. and mesquite scrub 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Abilene.

This fire caused the evacuation of the historic town of Buffalo Gap on Wednesday. Forest Service spokesman Stuart Morris said the city reopened on Thursday, but a wind shift expected later Thursday could pose a new threat.

No injuries were reported Thursday afternoon, but Morris said 27 structures were destroyed. It was not immediately clear how many of these were residences.

All of West Texas was under a wildfire danger warning on Thursday, with underlying drought and critical to extremely dry vegetation combined with temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) and gusty winds.

However, the Forest Service said a new weather pattern by the weekend should usher in cooler temperatures and humidity that could limit the potential for wildfire activity Saturday and Sunday.

Wildfires broke out this spring earlier than usual in several western states in the United States, where climate change and persistent drought are fueling the frequency and intensity of forest and grassland fires.

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Associated Press writers Terry Wallace in Dallas and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada contributed to this report.