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Large wildfires forcing Arizona road closures

Evacuations continue

Photo: Steve DaCosta

The Arizona Department of Transportation has closed some state routes east of Phoenix as the Bush Fire rages, almost doubling in size since Wednesday morning.

State Route (SR) 87 is closed from Payson (milepost 251) to Bush Highway. SR 188 is closed between SR 87 (milepost 276) and Roosevelt Lake (milepost 243). In addition, SR 88 is closed between Apache Lake (milepost 229) and SR 188 (milepost 242).

The long-term SR 88 closure from east of Tortilla Flat to Apache Lake also remains in place. This means drivers are not permitted to travel east of Tortilla Flat right now on SR 88. At this time, there are no closures on Interstate 10 or Interstate 17 in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The Bush Fire is currently the largest wildfire in the country, covering 104,379 acres and is only 5% contained as of Thursday morning. Evacuations are ongoing in the vicinity of the fire, and there’s no significant rain chance in the forecast for Phoenix until next week.

New evacuations have been issued for the Mangum Fire in northern Arizona, which has grown to 56,780 acres and is only 3% contained.

The Big Horn Fire near Tucson, where evacuations are still in place, has burned at least 23,892 acres and is 40% contained.

Recent strong winds helped spread the flames, but winds are subsiding now that a huge ridge of high pressure is moving into the Desert Southwest. Unfortunately, it may not rain in the Tucson area for at least another week.

Red flag warnings remain posted in southern Colorado, as well as the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys of California, where winds will be gusty Thursday and humidity will be extremely low.

Several brush fires broke out Wednesday in northern California around Sacramento, including the Nelson Fire. Three homes were destroyed and two were damaged.

Also near Sacramento, evacuations are in place due to the Walker Fire, which has grown to 1,100 acres and is only 35% contained. It has destroyed two structures and threatened 50. As of Thursday morning, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has not reported any road closures due to the fires.

The good news is that, beginning Thursday night, a new high pressure system will relax the winds where these California fires are burning. However, it will bring more high heat and very dry air to the area, making it more difficult for firefighters to control the wildfires for at least the next few days.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.