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Flames rip through Arizona, topping US in wildfires

Several horses ignore the smoke from the 14,900 acre Lizard Fire east of Dragoon, Ariz., on June 11, 2017. The fire is burning through dry grass and shrubs and being pushed by erratic winds. A red flag warning is in effect because of the hazardous conditions. The Lizard Fire had merged earlier with the Dragoon Fire on Friday afternoon. The fire may have been started by lightning on Wednesday. (A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

PHOENIX (AP) — Nearly 30 wildfires tore through dry and windy Arizona on Monday, drawing crews from across the Western United States to the state with the most blazes burning in the nation.

Thousands of firefighters were battling 28 wildfires throughout the state, many of them ignited by lightning or people, as gusty winds and parched vegetation fueled the flames, said Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for the state forestry department. No one has been injured, and just one empty house has been destroyed.

Some southern Arizona residents were allowed to return home Monday after fleeing last week from a wildfire in the community of Dragoon that burned a vacant home. Evacuation orders were in place for at least 30 houses.

Heather Floyd, who lives in Dragoon, said an official came to her house with a warning to evacuate Wednesday. Floyd decided to spend the night at her daughter’s home in a nearby town, but her husband stayed behind.

When she left, she took multiple suitcases — one with five days’ worth of clothes, and another with photo albums and picture frames she grabbed off the walls.

“It’s weird,” Floyd said. “What do you pack? It’s 10:30 at night, you’re not really thinking.”

The fire came within half a mile of her house, but she went back the next morning and they have stayed since.

Davila estimates at least 80 square miles (207 square kilometers) across the state are ablaze. She said crews from seven other states are working to control the fires.

Officials closed a section of highway in northern Arizona last week because smoke from a mountain fire restricted visibility. State Route 180 about 10 miles north of Flagstaff will stay closed at least until Sunday, when the state Department of Transportation will re-evaluate.

Arizona has seen 858 fires so far this year that have charred 205 square miles (530.95 square kilometers).

Dry lightning, or lighting without rain, sparked some of the bigger fires burning now. It is more common in summer months leading up to the state’s monsoon, said Hector Vasquez, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. Fire danger decreases as more moisture moves in and rain begins accompanying the lightning storms.

The National Weather Service warned residents in eastern and northern Arizona that high winds and low humidity could lead fires to spread more easily.

State forestry officials predicted two months ago that southern Arizona would have a higher fire risk than the northern, forested parts of the state, because winter rain and snow increased the amount of vegetation that fuels fires in later months after it dries out.

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A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the number of fires cited in 2016 was for the entire year, but it was a year-to-date figure.

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