Arizona wildfires force hundreds to evacuate

The Bush Fire, around 48km northeast of Phoenix, has burned over 25,900 ha since June 13, 2020.
The Bush Fire, around 48km northeast of Phoenix, has burned over 25,900 ha since June 13, 2020.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Wildfires across Arizona have forced hundreds to evacuate their homes, fleeing blazes - including one that has already consumed over 260 sq km - as the state grapples with a spike in confirmed coronavirus infections.

The Bush Fire, around 48km northeast of Phoenix, has burned over 25,900 ha since Saturday (June 13), according to fire officials. Firefighters will have to battle winds that are expected to reach 32 kmh to 48 kmh as well as dry summer heat, with temperatures above 100 in places, said Mr Dee Hines, a fire agency spokesman.

"That makes for some rapid fire growth - extreme fire behaviour," Mr Hines said of the conditions.

About 1,600 people living east of the fire were ordered on Monday morning to evacuate, with those in another community north of the fire ordered on Tuesday to do so, officials said. Mr Hines said he was not aware of any structures that had been destroyed in the Bush Fire.

The fire started on Saturday after a burning car pulled off State Route 87, setting nearby grass on fire, Mr Hines said. The incident is under investigation, officials said. That highway was closed, along with recreational sites in the area.

Those ordered to evacuate face the challenges of relocating amid a statewide spike in coronavirus cases. Officials instructed evacuees to "avoid close contact with those who are sick" and "practise public health recommendations when relocating".

Arizona has reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day over the last several days, with people across the state flocking to bars and clubs after the state's stay-at-home order expired on May 15. But even as cases began to increase sharply late last month, governor Doug Ducey said he would not consider bringing back earlier restrictions.

 
 

The Bush Fire comes as firefighters struggle to contain additional fires on opposite sides the state.

The Mangum Fire, north of the Grand Canyon, has burned nearly 12,140 ha near the Utah border and is at 3 per cent containment, while the Bighorn Fire, raging northwest of Tucson, has burned nearly 6,070 ha and is at 30 per cent containment, according to the US Forest Service.