June 8, 2018 / 7:19 PM / 13 days ago

Colorado wildfire grows 40 percent as more homes evacuated

(Reuters) - Colorado officials ordered another 300 homes in the southwestern part of the state evacuated on Friday as a massive wildfire grew 40 percent larger than it had been the day before after jumping a highway that had previously been a barrier on its east side.

FILE PHOTO: A helicopter drops water on the 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, U.S. in this June 4, 2018 handout photo obtained by Reuters June 5, 2018. La Plata County/Handout via REUTERS

Residents of some 1,500 homes have now been ordered to evacuate the area threatened by fire, La Plata County officials said in a statement. So far no homes have been burned and no injuries reported, said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, Colorado.

Two dozen wildfires in eight states were being tracked by federal agencies on Friday.

Wildfires have increased in number and size in recent years, a trend expected to continue, said Michele Steinberg, wildfire division director for the National Fire Prevention Association.

“We’re going to see more large fires and more damaging fires,” Steinberg said in a phone interview on Friday. She said there is a “new normal” when it comes to U.S. wildfires for a number of reasons, including drier and hotter weather.

In 2017, a near-record 10 million acres (4 million hectares) were burned in wildfires, the National Interagency Coordination Center said. The same agency issued a June forecast for “above-normal significant large fire potential” this month in Southern California and the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, because of a deepening drought and ample fuels for wildfires.

TUNDRA FIRES

By Friday morning, the Colorado fire had scorched 7,180 acres (2,906 hectares), up from 5,103 acres (2,065 hectares) a day earlier, officials said.

Conditions were ripe for the fire’s further spread, the multi-agency team fighting the blaze said.

In northern New Mexico, a fire that started May 31 had burned 36,800 acres (14,900 hectares) by Friday morning, was 66 percent contained, and not expected to spread.

In Alaska, fires were burning as far north as the treeless Arctic, where lightning has ignited a cluster of tundra fires. The biggest of them was a tundra fire that covered 13,000 acres 16 miles (26 km) east of the Inupiat Eskimo village of Point Hope on the northwest coast of the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

BLM spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said on Friday that the large Alaska fire was no longer being actively fought, as it was not expected to burn far enough to affect the few cabins on native-owned land in the area.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Editing by James Dalgleish

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