An extreme heat wave in the Southwest U.S. made the fight against a series of wildfires more difficult Wednesday, including one that has destroyed at least four homes in an Arizona town known for its wineries, authorities said.
Temperatures in parts of Arizona, California and Nevada soared to nearly 120 degrees this week, creating problems for firefighters. In California, two firefighters were treated for heat-related injuries as they battled a blaze in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.
In New Mexico, authorities say a brush fire destroyed sheds and vehicles on private property and sent two residents and a firefighter to the hospital for smoke inhalation and other minor injuries.
In Arizona, about 100 firefighters battled a 2-square-mile blaze believed to have been ignited by lightning Tuesday in triple-digit temperatures in Sonoita, 45 miles southeast of Tucson. None of the wineries dotting the area was threatened.
“The heat is a major factor not only for us getting overheated but heat will rise up our embers, which will cause more fires to pick up,” said Joseph De Wolf, chief of the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District.
State forestry officials said six structures were destroyed but didn’t know how many were homes. De Wolf said earlier that four houses had burned.
Evacuations were lifted Wednesday evening after rainfall helped control the fire.
Ann Alden, who lives within a half mile of where the blaze started, said the area looked “like a war zone” when she returned home.
“My buildings are all OK but the land is black,” she said. “I’m in shock.”
Alden, 70, said she fled her home Tuesday evening as soon as she saw the flames.
“My initial thought was that we were in big trouble,” said Alden, who loaded three of her six horses into a trailer already hooked up to her truck and put her two dogs in the backseat. Her cat went into a carrier onto the truck bed, along with an overnight bag. Alden called a friend to pick up the remaining horses.
Firefighters across Arizona are battling about 30 blazes, making resources scarce, De Wolf said. He said he was asking Gov. Doug Ducey to help cover the financial costs of battling the fire.
Fires are burning throughout the Southwest, including one in Utah that forced the evacuation of more than 700 people and shut down part of a state highway.
The blaze, which was sparked Saturday by someone using a torch to burn weeds, destroyed one home and damaged another. A fire official said the person who started it could face charges for the fire that could cost more than $1 million to fight.
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