The wildfires burning in Utah and Arizona continue to be made worse by high temperatures, gusty winds, and dry thunderstorms.
‘We need help’
The Brian Head Fire in southern Utah has burned more 54,000 acres, an area bigger than the city of Washington, said CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen.
Fifteen-hundred people have been evacuated and 13 homes and eight outbuildings have been destroyed, said fire spokeswoman Elayn Briggs. More than 1,600 personnel are battling the fire, which is 10% contained.
The Utah Department of Public Safety released 911 calls from June 17, when the fire first began.
The first caller reported someone burning shrubbery around their property and warned that someone needed to go talk to the homeowner “before he burns down Brian Head.”
The second call released is from someone who says they are trying to fight the fire, “but it’s getting out of control.”
“It’s big. It’s like 50 feet by 50 feet. We need help,” the caller says.
Ninety-eight percent of Utah is under a red flag warning from the National Weather Service, said Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management.
Dougherty said that even though the red flag warning is set to expire Wednesday night, temperatures across the state remain high.
“Temperatures will be in the 80s and 90s for northern Utah, and in southern Utah where the Brian Head Fire is, it’s expected to have temperatures up to the high 90s by Saturday, so there is a very big possibility that more fires will start during the rest of the week,” Dougherty said.
“We keep urging caution, especially as we come close to the Fourth of July holiday, that people take exceptional care with their fireworks. They need to heed any warnings related to fireworks regarding the area that they’re allowed to be lit because we frankly don’t need any more fires, especially human-caused fires,” he said.
Preparing to evacuate
In Arizona, the Goodwin Fire burning in the Prescott National Forest has grown to 20,000 acres and is only 1% contained.
Debbie Maneely, a US Forest Service spokeswoman, said the fire’s size is expected to increase because of high winds.
Barbara Rice lives in Prescott, just off Highway 69, which was recently closed when the fire crossed it.
“We are a good 12 miles away from the fire. We live in the mountains, so we can see the huge plume of smoke. It’s disconcerting,” Rice said.
She received texts telling her to prepare to evacuate, but they are not under a pre-evacuation notice at this point.
“This is the first time I’ve ever done this. I’ve pulled out my family photos and important records and I know exactly what I have to grab if we have to leave,” said Rice, who lives with her husband and her dog.
Rice said fires are always a threat, especially during the summer.
“We have a lot of people that come to spend a few cool days up in the mountains and away from the Phoenix heat and a lot of these fires are human-caused. Some are lightning-caused, but it’s a big worry up here during the summer,” she said.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey released a statement saying the Goodwin Fire was the state’s “top priority.”
“Not only do our hearts go out to those who have been displaced, but our attention and resources are focused heavily on containing the fire and protecting property and lives,” he said. ” As always, we are indebted to the firefighters, first responders and local community leaders who are managing and fighting this fire, as well as the many other fires throughout the state right now. The next 24 hours will be critical, and the state will provide whatever support and resources are necessary to assist firefighters and residents in the region.”
“My plan is to go buy some Starbucks gift cards and hand them out to any of the firefighters I see,” Rice said.
“They do a lot for us.”
Break in temperatures
Good news is on the horizon: Hennan said the weather should improve for firefighters after Wednesday.
He said the critical fire area in the Southwest is expected to shrink on Thursday, but not for long.
“The temporary break we see tomorrow may be short-lived and the fire danger may begin to slowly ramp up over the weekend as we head into the Fourth of July holiday,” Hennan said.