(Reuters) – Gusting winds and continued dry weather in southwestern Colorado helped to fan a largely uncontrolled wildfire that grew by nearly one-third to more than 22,000 acres on Monday, forcing the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes.
The blaze, called the 416 Fire by responders and in its 11th day, is the latest in the 2018 fire season in the western United States. Last year was a near-record year as 10 million acres (4 million hectares) burned across the country, the National Interagency Coordination Center said.
The team fighting the blaze said isolated showers were several days away and conditions for the fire spreading were favorable on Monday. Humidity was about 6 percent and winds were expected to gust up to 25 miles per hour (40 km per hour), responders said.
“Weather conditions remain critical,” said the multiagency Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team that is coordinating firefighting efforts.
After doubling in size from Saturday to Sunday, the wildfire, 13 miles north of the small city of Durango, grew by another 32 percent to 22,131 acres (8,956 hectares) from Sunday to Monday, the team said. At its current size, the fire is nearly the size of Disney World.
A 32-mile (52 km) stretch of U.S. Highway 550, which has served as a buffer for homes on the east side of the fire, was closed on Monday, officials said.
All 1.8 million acres (730,000 hectares) of the San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado were due to be closed to visitors by Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement, citing the fire danger.
More than 800 firefighters battled the blaze, which was 10 percent contained, unchanged from Sunday.
No buildings have been destroyed so far but the fire was a few hundred yards from homes, with multiple aircraft dropping water and flame retardant, according to Inciweb, an interagency fire report.
“The terrain is rough and inaccessible in many areas,” the report said. The estimated date for containment was June 30, it said.
Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS), said while winds were down on Monday from the weekend, “It’s still a fan on the fire. It won’t be until Tuesday before the winds really die down.”
The NWS has placed large portions of the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona under a red flag warning of extreme fire danger due to the dry conditions.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jonathan Allen in New York and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and Jeffrey Benkoe)