Wildfires Burn in California and Arizona, Residents Return After Utah Blaze

July 1, 2020

NILAND, Calif. — A wind-driven wildfire destroyed homes and forced evacuations as it tore through a rural Southern California desert town near the Salton Sea, authorities said Monday.

In the meantime, residents who evacuated because of a wildfire in Utah returned to their homes, while firefighters continued to battle a wild land blaze near Tuscon, Arizona.

The Southern California fire erupted Sunday evening in Niland, a small and poor agricultural community about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from San Diego.

Damage was still being assessed but the current estimate was 20 homes destroyed and about 130 people displaced, said Linsey Dale, a spokeswoman for Imperial County.

The American Red Cross Southern California Southern California Region said it was working to provide shelter.

“It’s very devastating in that area right now,” Dale said.

Niland, population about 1,000, is located at the north end of an agricultural region that stretches south to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The fire was pushed by strong winds, forcing evacuation of the entire township.

Every local fire truck and firefighting team responded and firefighting help also came from elsewhere.

The fire is the latest blow to California’s Imperial County, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 500 patients have been moved to hospitals in other counties over the past five weeks to relieve strain on the county’s healthcare system.

In southern Arizona, more than 1,000 firefighters battled a wildfire in extremely windy conditions in the Santa Catalina Mountains that has closed a state park and forced evacuations northeast of Tucson.

The fire sparked by lightning more than three weeks ago has now burned across more than 167 square miles (432 square kilometers) .

It was estimated Monday morning to be 45% contained. No one has died and no structures have been damaged but seven minor injuries have been reported since the fire broke out June 5.

Most of Arizona was under a red-flag warning Monday due to extreme fire danger. Winds are expected to gust up to 40 mph (64 kph) in dry conditions with low humidity.

“The weather service is telling us this could be one of the windiest days in the Tucson area in years,” incident commander Aaron Thompson said Monday.

Crews were focused Monday on protecting radio towers on Mount Lemmon. The nearby community of Summerhaven was among those areas under evacuation orders.

Residents in the southern Catalinas between Catalina Highway milepost 3 and Redington Road also were given evacuation orders Sunday night.

Sabino Canyon, Bear Canyon, Catalina State Park and part of Catalina Highway remain closed.

In Utah, residents of Saratoga Springs were allowed to return home Monday after wildfire prompted the evacuation of about 3,100 homes.

The fire destroyed one home and damaged 12 others Sunday, city officials said Monday.

The blaze had spread to nearly 19 square miles (49 square kilometers) and was 25% contained Monday afternoon.

The Knolls Fire started south of the community on the shore of Utah Lake on Sunday. in strong winds and heat.

Meanwhile, a wildfire sparked by fireworks in the Lehi area forced out residents of houses and an apartment building early Sunday before crews managed to turn back the blaze as it encroached on a neighborhood, officials said.

A suspect was cooperating with law enforcement, Utah Fire Info said in a tweet. Fireworks are prohibited in the area.

Strong wind gusts had been reported in the area as the Traverse Fire grew to about 450 acres (200 hectares) before it was completely contained Monday.

About the photo: This Sunday, June 28, 2020 photo provided by El Centro Fire Department shows a wildfire burning through a section of Niland, Calif. A wind-driven wildfire has destroyed about 20 homes and forced evacuations as it tore through the rural town of Niland in the Southern California desert near the Salton Sea.

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