June 15, 2018 / 9:27 AM / a month ago

Rains expected to help teams battling U.S. Southwest wildfires

DENVER (Reuters) - Firefighters battling several unrelenting wildfires in the U.S. Southwest will likely get a reprieve thanks to heavy thunderstorms and widespread rains this weekend after facing yet another day of windy and dry weather on Friday.

But red flag warnings remained in effect overnight for southern Nevada, southern Utah and western Colorado, where wind gusts could reach 45 miles (72 km) an hour, the National Weather Service said.

Although the wet weather could help efforts to battle two dozen wildfires that are currently burning in the region, it could also cause flash floods, the National Weather Service added.

The largest and most threatening blaze is the 416 Fire, which has scorched nearly 33,000 acres (13,000 hectares) of drought-parched grass, brush and timber at the edge of the San Juan National Forest near the southwestern Colorado town of Durango.

Fire officials said on Friday that crews had contained 18 percent of that blaze.

Efforts have at times been stalled or shut down entirely as people persist in sending aerial drones toward the flames, presumably in the hope of capturing spectacular pictures and videos of the inferno, according to the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado.

The drones endanger the safety of pilots flying tankers and helicopters to battle the fire, officials said.

Officials lifted evacuation orders for some 375 residences and 19 businesses in the area. Nearly 1,000 residences and businesses remained under evacuation orders, La Plata County officials said.

The 416 Fire and a separate, smaller blaze burning nearby, the Burro Fire, prompted state parks officials to close several wildlife areas to the public. The U.S. Forest Service has closed all 1.8 million acres of the San Juan National Forest to visitors.

About 60 miles west of Denver, evacuations from 1,400 homes were lifted on Thursday near the 81-acre Buffalo Fire as crews gained 45 percent containment around the blaze, fire officials said.

No one has been injured and no structures have been lost in the Colorado fires, but nine homes were destroyed in a small wildfire in Utah.

In southern Wyoming near the Colorado border, the Badger Creek Fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest has ballooned to nearly 15,000 acres, according to the Inciweb online U.S. fire information service.

The Wyoming fire containment was listed as zero percent by fire officials. About 400 homes in Albany County have been ordered to evacuate, and one home and two outbuildings have been destroyed by the flames, fire incident spokesman Chris Barth said by telephone.

The fire also has prompted the closure of about 50,000 acres of the 2.9 million-acre national forest, and 16,000 acres of the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grasslands in neighboring Colorado, he said.

Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman

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