High Winds Create ‘Critical’ Fire Risk in Parts of Central U.S.


High winds and dry conditions in Texas and New Mexico posed a critical fire risk on Sunday, the National Weather Service said, while parts of Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma also faced an elevated risk of fires.

Nearly three million people were under red flag warnings, which means that a combination of high temperatures, very low humidity and strong winds were creating, or were about to create, a heightened risk of fires that could spread rapidly.

There were eight reports of wildfires in Oklahoma on Saturday, according to the state’s Department of Emergency Management.

In northwest Oklahoma, a wildfire prompted officials to issue an evacuation order for the town of Sharon. The order was lifted hours later but firefighters were still trying to contain the fire on Sunday morning.

Two firefighters were injured and being treated for burns, KOCO, a local news station, reported.

On Sunday, more than 587,000 people were in areas deemed at “critical” risk of experiencing a large wildfire, including in Lubbock, Texas, and Clovis, N.M.

The high winds also contributed to power outages. More than 130,000 customers were without power across Colorado on Sunday afternoon after powerful winds fueled fires and downed trees.

Most of the Colorado residents without electricity were customers of the power company Xcel Energy, according to its website.

On Saturday afternoon, Xcel Energy had preemptively cut power to roughly 55,000 customers in several counties over wildfire concerns.

Xcel Energy said that “turning off customers’ power is not something we take lightly,” noting that it is “a last-resort step that can prove to be a lifesaving measure.”

Nearly two million people in parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming were under a high wind warning as of 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Winds up to 40 miles per hour, and gusts of up to 80 m.p.h. in some areas, could blow down trees and power lines, the National Weather Service said.

The Weather Service warned that blowing dust could severely limit visibility in portions of northeast Colorado and northwest and west central Kansas through the evening and could cause a prolonged period of poor air quality.

Forecasters said that the dust could cause “a sudden drop in visibility to near zero,” and cautioned that travel could be dangerous to possibly life-threatening.

Power failures, broken tree limbs and blowing dust were all expected because of the winds, forecasters said.

In Colorado, winds of over 90 m.p.h. were recorded in some parts of Boulder County on Saturday night, the National Weather Service said. The city of Boulder experienced gusts of 63 m.p.h.

On Saturday night, firefighters were battling a one-acre wildfire in a National Forest near Estes Park in Colorado.

The fire had not grown significantly on Saturday night and the only immediate threat was to power poles, the local Forest Service said on social media.

Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.





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