June 12 (UPI) -- Hundreds of residents were forced to flee northern parts of Tucson, Ariz., with little notice as the Bighorn Fire raged near the Catalina Foothills.
Forecasters said a dangerous combination of weather conditions will keep the threat high for fires like Bighorn to spread further and for new fires to ignite through the weekend.
Arizona has the largest concentration of ongoing wildfires across the southwestern United States, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, with California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and West Texas also reporting blazes.
Lightning sparked the blaze back on June 5, and it has spread rapidly in recent days. On Wednesday, the Bighorn Fire had scorched around 3,200 acres, but by Friday night, it had grown to nearly 9,000 acres with 10 percent containment, according to InciWeb.
One of the biggest challenges in battling this blaze is the landscape of the Catalina Mountains where it is burning.
"This fire has been really complex from the [beginning]. With that terrain, it's super steep, super rocky, so a lot of it is just not safe for our firefighters to be on the ground up there unfortunately, so a lot of this fire has been surpassed and managed from the air with helicopters and air tankers," Adam Jarrold told AccuWeather. Jarrold is the public information officer assigned to the Bighorn Fire.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department went door-to-door in the northern parts of the Catalina Foothills to ensure that residents in danger of the fire were able to get to safety in time. People that live nearby should monitor the situation closely and be prepared to leave if the mandatory evacuation orders are expanded.
"As the fire gets closer to the homes, we have hotshots getting behind the communities to create firebreaks, using hand tools, chainsaws to remove any fuel for the fire," said Jarrold.
Those that need to evacuate should make sure to keep safety precautions in mind amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Residents should avoid close contact with those who are sick and should practice public health recommendations when relocating," the department stated in its evacuation notice. "Grab your emergency go kit. Keep in mind unique needs for your family or special equipment for pets and livestock."
Local resident Scott Fadynich is dangerously close to the fire and is preparing to evacuate the moment that evacuation orders are given.
"It's just my wife and myself. We took some time [Thursday], put the breaks on everything else I've been doing and just gathered important documents and a few things that we feel like are priceless," Fadynich told AccuWeather news reporter Bill Wadell on Friday.
Friday afternoon, the Pima County Office of Emergency Management and the Pima County Sheriff's Department downgraded the evacuation status, allowing previously evacuated residents to return to their homes. However, they caution for people to remain alert and prepared.
Other notable fires across the Southwest include the Elizabeth Fire and the Lime Fire, both burning in Ventura County, Calif. The Lime Fire is the bigger of the two with mandatory evacuations in place around the 700-acre fire, according to Cal Fire.
"The potential for new fires and the rapid spread of existing fires will increase over the Southwest on Friday and Saturday," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said. "This time the main threat area may focus more on the Great Basin across the interior."
On Friday afternoon around 1 p.m., Cal Fire declared a new fire, the Grant Fire, in Sacramento County, California. Within four hours, the blaze exploded from 100 acres to 5,000 acres, though at 60 percent containment. Video of damage from the fire shows charred fields and small flames still eating away at the remaining plant life. In Fresno County, California, the Hog Fire ignited, reaching up to 500 acres by around 5 p.m. Friday.
Any type of outdoor burning is strongly discouraged in the pattern as wind gusts are likely to frequent 20 mph to 30 mph with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 60 mph possible. Such winds can easily turn a few sparks into a rapidly spreading blaze in minutes.
The use of outdoor power equipment should also be limited, and cigarettes should be properly discarded.
The gusty winds can also lead to blowing dust in the deserts, resulting in poor visibility for motorists at times. Loose, lightweight outdoor items should be brought inside before the winds pick up.
The highest fire danger will mostly be east of California this weekend, but forecasters say gusty winds and an elevated risk for wildfire spread cannot be ruled out for the Golden State.
"During Saturday evening, we will have to watch for the potential for a Sundowner wind situation during the evening hours across the north-south oriented valleys in Santa Barbara County, California," AccuWeather meteorologist Brett Rossio said.
Even moderate wind gusts could be enough to raise concern in this area, especially with the blazes that are already ongoing in the region.
AccuWeather meteorologists expect additional fire threats next week with several more rounds of gusty winds across the Southwest.