Brandie DeSpain, of Heber-Overgaard, Arizona, watched as the flames burned up to the mailboxes on her family’s ranch.
By the time all the relatives and livestock were evacuated, she was hoping firefighters would be able to save some of the property and its seven homes, which her family has owned for more than a century.
DeSpain is an EMS division chief with the Puerco Valley Fire District. “It’s a lot different when you’re the one that’s got a fire coming up on your house,” she said.
A series of massive out-of-control western wildfires have threatened about 2,000 homes in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. At least 1,500 residents have been evacuated. And while rain showers helped extinguish part of the largest New Mexico blaze, smaller fires in neighboring Colorado and Arizona continued to rage largely unchecked.
“The rains came, and we’re glad of it. But it didn’t do it,” said Judith Dyess, spokeswoman for New Mexico’s Southwest Incident Management Team.
“The fire’s western edge was still burning out of control,” she said. As of June 4, the so-called Ute Park Fire had burned at least 40,000 acres.
In a rare measure, the nearby Santa Fe National Forest was closed to the public indefinitely, due to the heightened fire risk from prolonged drought.
“The rains came, and we’re glad of it. But it didn’t do it.”
Meanwhile, strong winds and extremely dry conditions continued to fuel other western wildfires, such as the 416 Fire, just north of Durango, Colorado.
That’s where a wall of smoke towered above the dense, dry brush in southern Colorado’s San Juan National Forest.
Helicopter crews have worked to contain the growing inferno from the skies since its outbreak on June 1.
Three days later, that fire had burned more than 2,500 acres, and was only 10% contained.
In Arizona, western wildfires that forced evacuations in the Heber-Overgaard area were caused by a semi-truck driver, according to investigators.
Deputies said the semi driver was dragging parts of the trailer along State Route 377, causing sparks to fly along 24 miles of the freeway. Those sparks ignited the brush fires, the Department of Public Safety said.
Troopers found and stopped the driver and the truck was placed out of service. The U.S. Forest Service is investigating, and it’s unclear if the driver will be cited or charged.
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As of June 5, the Arizona fires had burned about 1,500 acres, and the U.S. Forest Service said there was zero containment. As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation closed portions of both State Route 377 and State Route 277. There is no estimated time when those roads will be reopened.