Massive wildfires hit US states


One person has died as massive wildfires in drought-parched Colorado and New Mexico burn out of control, while politicians pleaded for updates to an ageing US aerial firefighting fleet.

About 600 firefighters were expected to be battling the fire by today, said incident commander Bill Hahnenberg. “We are a very high priority nationally. We can get all the resources we want and need,” he said.

The Colorado fire has destroyed at least 118 buildings, and hundreds of people have been forced to abandon their homes.

The US Forest Service said on Monday it would add more aircraft to its aerial firefighting fleet, contracting one air tanker from the state of Alaska and four from Canada. Two more air tankers were being activated in California.

The announcement came after Colorado’s US House congressional delegation demanded that the US Forest Service deploy more resources to the fire, which was totally uncontained.

The Larimer County sheriff’s office confirmed that one person had died.

The family of Linda Steadman (62) had reported her missing after the fire started Saturday, sheriff’s officials said. Investigators found remains in her burned home on Monday that haven’t been positively identified yet, but her family issued a statement saying Ms Steadman died in the cabin.

In a letter to the Forest Service, Colorado’s congressmen said the need for firefighting aircraft was “dire”.

One of the region’s most potent aerial firefighting forces - two Wyoming Air National Guard C-130s fitted to drop slurry - sat on a runway in Cheyenne, 80km  north of the Colorado fire, becaused the US Forest Service, by law, cannot call for military resources until it deems that its fleet is fully busy. It also takes 36 hours to mobilise the crews and planes, officials said.

Colorado was using five of 13 air tankers available nationally, said Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin.

Meanwhile, helicopters were used to suck water from a reservoir and drop it on nearby homes dangerously close to the flames.

Evacuees expressed gratitude for the help. “They’re doing the best they can,” said Barb Hermsen as she watched a helicopter make daring raids through smoke and flame. “We know how much they have to go through, and where they’re going - man, it’s crazy.”

In New Mexico, firefighters used a break in the hot and windy weather and got new air and ground support to battle a fast-moving wildfire that charred tens of thousands of acres and forced hundreds of residents to leave their homes in the southern part of the state.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, firefighters made slow progress against the largest wildfire in state history. The blaze has charred a huge area of forest since it was sparked by lightning in mid-May, and was 37 per cent contained by Monday.

Climate change will make wildfires in the US West more frequent over the next 30 years researchers reported yesterday.

More broadly, almost all of North America and most of Europe will see an increase in wildfires by the year 2100, the scientists wrote in the journal Ecosphere, a publication of the Ecological Society of America.

The US Southwest - Arizona, New Mexico and Texas - is the fastest-warming region of the United States, and this warming trend will worsen droughts, alter growing seasons and increase wildfire risk, the non-profit research organization Climate Central reported.

Using satellite-based fire records and 16 different climate-change models, an international team of researchers found that while wildfires will increase in many temperate zones due to rising temperatures, fire risk may actually decrease around the