Arizona Wildfires Destroy Thousands of Acres as Residents Evacuate, Grapple with COVID Cases
Arizona recently hit its highest daily total with 1,642 new coronavirus cases, around three times more than their daily totals in April and May
Massive wildfires are burning across Arizona, forcing thousands into evacuation while they also struggle to cope with an influx of coronavirus cases.
The Bush Fire, which started burning on Saturday near the intersection of Bush Highway and Highway 87 in Mesa, has already engulfed over 89,000 acres of land with only five percent containment, according to fire officials.
Meanwhile, the Bighorn Fire, which broke out from a lightning strike on June 5, and the Magnum Fire, which started three days later, have also been burning through the state, The Weather Channel reported.
Fire agency spokesman, Dee Hines, said the human-caused Bush Fire initially began after someone pulled their burning car off Highway 87 and set nearby grass ablaze, according to the New York Times. The highway and surrounding recreational sites were eventually closed as the flames burned through the area northeast of Phoenix, according to the outlet.
The National Weather Service in Phoenix said the Bush Fire is the seventh-largest one on record in the state and is expected to continue presenting challenges for firefighters in the coming week due to the hot, dry, and windy conditions.
"That makes for some rapid-fire growth — extreme fire behavior," Hines said, according to the Times, noting that winds are expected to reach 30 mph. while temperatures will soar above 100 degrees.
Because of the fire's intensity, authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents living in Apache Lake, Sunflower, Punkin Center, and Tonto Basin. More than 1,800 people in those areas have been displaced, according to the Weather Channel.
The mandatory evacuations come as Arizona sees a major spike in COVID-19 cases.
On Friday, the state hit its highest daily total with 1,642 new cases, around three times more than their daily totals in April and May. The numbers increased shortly after Arizona's stay-at-home order expired on May 15 and residents immediately headed to bars, restaurants, and clubs.
Arizona is now close to running out of hospital beds with more than 1,400 hospitalizations, their highest yet.
In Wednesday's press release, fire officials urged residents to "avoid close contact with those who are sick" and "practice public health recommendations when relocating," in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, in the Catalina Mountains northwest of Tucson, where the Bighorn Fire broke out, approximately 400 residents were forced to evacuate. The fire has burned through 15,805 acres and was 40 percent contained as of Wednesday.
Officials said overnight temperatures into Thursday and humidity levels were expected to decrease, which would also lower the fire's intensity and help firefighters contain more of the blaze.
The Magnum Fire, which broke out in the Kaibab National Forest north of the Grand Canyon, has burned through 47,561 acres but is only three percent contained. A cause is still unknown but officials are investigating.
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Officials also predicted on Wednesday that winds gusting to 25 MPH were expected to contribute to "another very active day of fire behavior" in the forest.
Nearby highways, national parks, and roads have been closed as temporary flight restrictions were put into effect around the entire fire area.
As of Wednesday, there have been at least 39,298 cases and 1,228 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the Times.
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