A wind-driven Arizona wildfire almost tripled in area on Wednesday after burning dozens of structures and forcing thousands to flee their homes in a drought-hit rural area.
The blaze, dubbed the Tunnel Fire, swept northeast over largely unpopulated hills 23 km north of Flagstaff, Arizona, burning 16,625 acres, or an area larger than Manhattan, according to the Inciweb fire information system.
"I cannot stress enough how rapidly this fire is moving," True Brown, a fire management officer with the Coconino National Forest, told reporters late Tuesday. "I cannot stress how important it is to leave the fire area."
The fire, driven by traditional gusty spring winds, forced more than 2,000 residents from their homes, the Coconino county Board of Supervisors said. The blaze has destroyed 24 structures.
The area is part of a swathe of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado caught in more than two decades of largely unrelenting drought after average temperatures rose about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, according to data from the Desert Research Institute and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Around 579 km to the east, an elderly couple died in their in Ruidoso, New Mexico, home last week when a wildfire destroyed hundreds of houses and forced thousands to flee the mountain town.