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Wildfire risk heating up for truckers in Southwest

Serious drought, low humidity, high winds producing fuel for fires

Hermits Peak fire near Las Vegas, New Mexico, May 8, 2022. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)

As fire weather conditions rise across the Southwest, truckers may run into road closures, low visibility due to smoke, and a high risk of rollovers.

Most of the large wildfires are in New Mexico — five of them, according to the Inciweb interactive map. Sections of at least 12 state highways are still closed due to these fires, especially in the Santa Fe and Las Vegas areas.

Much of the Southwest, from California to Texas, has been stuck in a long-term drought, making areas prone to wildfires. Periods of windy conditions have fanned flames out of control at times, especially in New Mexico.

The largest wildfire in the country is the Hermits Peak fire near Las Vegas, New Mexico. As of Sunday night, it had grown to more than 176,000 acres and was 43% contained. Crews made containment progress over the weekend, but they will have to battle high winds again early this week.

The National Weather Service is forecasting gusts of 60 to 70 mph Monday, and possibly Tuesday, for many parts of New Mexico, Colorado, northern Arizona and southern Nevada. Isolated spots could see gusts up to 80 or 90 mph.

Daytime humidity will be extremely low, less than 10% in many places, adding to the chances that new fires may pop up.

Fire weather conditions will spread into the Plains too, mainly in northern and western Texas, western Oklahoma and western Kansas. Wind gusts won’t be as strong as in the Southwest — 40 to 50 mph — but this is enough to cause issues. Thunderstorms will likely hit these areas Tuesday, so lightning strikes could spark fires.

The NWS has issued red flag warnings, high wind warnings and wind advisories across all the areas previously mentioned.

Besides the possibility of reduced visibility due to smoke and blowing dust, drivers will face a high risk of rollovers because of the winds.

Major lanes of concern

  • Interstate 10 from Tucson, Arizona, to Fort Stockton, Texas.
  • Interstate 20 in Texas from Abilene to the I-10 junction.
  • Interstate 25 from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Denver.
  • Interstate 40 from Needles, California, to Amarillo, Texas.
  • Interstate 70 from Denver to Hays, Kansas.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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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.