About 10,000 Arizonans have been forced to flee from their homes as wildfires continue to consume wide swaths of the southwestern United States today. Three dozen fires are raging across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California, as well as Texas and Georgia, forcing additional evacuations and slowing traffic to a crawl as highways in the path of the firestorms are closed.
Walls of flames have reached 10 feet in some areas, and have burned more than 1.2 million acres.
"I feared for my husband and my animals [and] for the air quality," June Carter, an Arizona evacuee, told ABC News.
More than 700 firefighters have come from across the country to battle what has become known as the Monument fire south of the city of Sierra Vista, Ariz., which has been burning since last week.
The Wallow blaze, in eastern Arizona, has consumed 519,319 acres, as more than 3,500 firefighters attempt to defend against its advance. Despite its size, the fire has only destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins. Containment rose to 51 percent Sunday.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., came under verbal fire today for partly blaming the fire on illegal immigrants.
"There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally," McCain said Saturday at a news conference. "The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border."
A U.S. Forest Service spokesman, speaking of the Wallow fire in Arizona, said there's no evidence it was caused by immigrants. McCain's office said today that he was talking about fires in general, not just the Wallow fire, and that there is evidence smugglers and illegal immigrants have caused fires on the southern U.S. border while camping or traveling.
The other major fire in the area, in Cochise County, Ariz., called the Horseshoe Two fire, has charred about 210,000 acres and destroyed 23 structures since it started May 8.
Diminishing winds today should help firefighters battle the blazes, after a week's worth of sustained high winds that helped fuel the fires.
A recent drought has also led to dry, dusty conditions that help wildfires thrive.
"What we're seeing is prolonged droughts. We're seeing more fires, more weather extremes," Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, said.
Along with Arizona, Texas has been the hardest hit. North of Houston, a 14,000-acre blaze is among the largest east Texas has ever seen.
The Lone Star state's worst droughts in recorded history have played a role.
"We rank behind 1918 and 1956 because they were preceded by other dry years, making the water shortages that much more acute," John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist, said. "The period from March through May was the driest ever, as were the periods from December through May and February through May. The period of October through May was also the driest ever and also the driest eight consecutive months on record."
The fire has burned 15,000 acres, and temperatures are about 100 degrees. The choking smoke forced a 5-hour shutdown of I-45, the only interstate that connects Houston and Dallas.
"It's dry out, and the smallest little fire with the wind, just like today, it doesn't take long for it to spread real fast," Lt. Dean Hensley of the Harris County Texas Fire Marshal's office said.