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California, New Mexico, Arizona wildfires grow; conditions worsen

By Allen Cone
California, New Mexico, Arizona wildfires grow; conditions worsen
A firefighter battlesd burned-off vegetation near El Capitan Ranch on Friday night as part of the Sherpa Fire. Photo courtesy Santa Barbara County/Facebook

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., June 18 (UPI) -- Major wildfires have consumed tens of thousands of acres and forced evacuations in California, New Mexico and Arizona.

The wildfires are being fueled by dry conditions and scorching heat.

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In Santa Barbara County, the Sherpa Fire has burned 7,063 acres, according to county officials, and it's only 24 percent contained at midday Saturday. Officials don't expect the fire to be contained for another week.

About 270 structures continue to be at risk and more than 400 people were ordered to be evacuated, according to the federal InciWeb page for the wildfire.

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"This is still a very dynamic fire situation and we do not want residents ... to be complacent," Sheriff Bill Brown said. "Even though conditions may appear to have become better during the day, the reality is things can change ... very rapidly in the evening. We do not want our residents to have a false sense of security."

U.S. Route 101, which runs along the Central Coast, reopened after being temporarily closed but it might be closed again if motorists face harm, according to the county.

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The fire's isn't known but it's being fueled by brush and tall grass chaparral that hasn't burned for more than 65 years, the county said.

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"It is ominous. We are concerned because the fuels out there are drought-stressed. There's a lot of tree mortality out there that makes fire behavior worse," Santa Barbara County Fire Department Chief Eric Peterson told KTLA5.

One firefighter sustained a minor laceration. A water treatment building at El Capitan state beach was destroyed.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in Refugio Canyon, Canada del Venadito Canyon, Las Flores Canyon, El Capitan Canyon, El Capitan Ranch, El Capitan State Beach and Canada de la Destiladera.

Santa Barbara is about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Smoke was impacting air quality in Los Angeles and Orange counties, according to regional air regulators.

Crews will face extreme winds and heat, with temperatures expected to rise into the 90s.

In New Mexico, the Dog Head fire tripled to 17,000 acres Saturday morning, forcing evacuations in the Manzano Mountains, 35 miles southeast of Albuquerque.

Crews took advantage of cooler weather Friday night but it was expected to be hot and dry again Saturday with variable light winds throughout the day. Shifting winds could cause embers to cross the fire lines, authorities said.

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In Show Low, Arizona, the fire has reached nearly reached 12,140 acres and prompted some evacuations in the area.

Show Low is about 180 miles northeast of Phoenix.

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