Bush Fire doubles in size as strong winds force thousands to evacuate

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The Bush Fire in southern Arizona morphed from one of many blazes in the region to one of the largest in state history, seemingly overnight. By early Wednesday, the blaze had swelled to nearly 90,000 acres and was only 5 percent contained.

The fire is the largest current wildfire in the United States and one of 12 notables blazes burning in Arizona. The fire doubled in size from Tuesday to Wednesday and forced thousands to evacuate.

According to Inciweb, the communities of Apache Lake, Sunflower, Punkin Center and Tonto Basin have all been told to evacuate.

The blaze was initially started by a car fire on Bush Highway, which ignited dry brush and grass. Burning to the northeast of Phoenix, the fire has yet to destroy any homes or structures, but photos depicting the blaze's burn scars and fire fronts are frighteningly close to residences.

Satellite images capture the wide burn range of the Bush Fire as it continues spreading without containment on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

In the coronavirus era, those evacuation orders come with extra health-related focuses.

"Danger in these areas is imminent and life-threatening," the fire information page reads. "Residents should evacuate immediately to a shelter or with family/friends outside of the affected area. Residents should avoid close contact with those who are sick and should practice public health recommendations when relocating."

According to the National Weather Service office in Phoenix, the Bush Fire's sudden growth moved up its burnt acreage total to the seventh largest wildfire in state history.

AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dave Samuhel said strong winds and high temperatures will continue to give firefighters a difficult time battling the inferno.

"Firefighters will have one more day of strong winds to contend with," Samuhel said Wednesday. "A cold front will help trigger gusty winds this afternoon and evening. The wind will be from the southwest at 10 to 20 mph with gusts over 30 mph. Temperatures will be in the 90s to near 100 this afternoon."

Even though Samuhel said that winds should calm slightly going into the weekend, humidity levels will still remain low and the chance of precipitation remains slim.

Around 160 miles to the north, by the Grand Canyon, the state's second-largest fire also grew rapidly in the first half of this week. Known as the Magnum Fire, the blaze also nearly doubled in size and had burnt 47,561 acres as of Wednesday morning.

According to Inciweb, the fire forced numerous road closures and led the U.S. Forest Service to close the North Kaibab Ranger District. Those road closures rendered the North Rim of the Grand Canyon inaccessible.

In the southeastern corner of Arizona, firefighters battling the state's previous largest blazes -- the Bighorn Fire, the Blue River Fire and the Sawtooth Fire -- made significant containment progress with all three.

Burning by the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, the Bighorn Fire has burned nearly 16,000 acres as over 700 firefighters have worked to contain 40 of the blaze.

The fire prompted evacuations at Mount Lemmon and Mount Bigelow, areas that have received particularly close attention due to the spread potential in populated areas, Public Information Officer Molly Hunter told AccuWeather national reporter Bill Wadell.

"There's so many different communities around different parts of the fire to the south and west. You've got Tucson and Oro Valley, those are big municipalities," she said. "Then as the fire goes up the mountain, we've got smaller communities, the town of Summerhaven is on top of Mount Lemmon. That's an area where we're focusing on more recently because the fire has the potential to perhaps spread in that direction."

As weather conditions and other factors, such as difficult terrain, caused a long and grueling fight against the wildfire, which was ignited by a lightning strike on June 5, communities have been turning out to offer support for firefighters.

"The community here has been wonderful in their support of firefighters. Issuing thank you notes and signs and all that stuff and the firefighters are really appreciative and they feel that community support," Hunter told Wadell.

Reporting by Bill Wadell.
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