Flames rip through Arizona, topping US in wildfires

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Crews from across the Western United States have come to Arizona to help with the wildfires. (Source: 3TV/ CBS 5) Crews from across the Western United States have come to Arizona to help with the wildfires. (Source: 3TV/ CBS 5)

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.

[RELATED: New concerns about increased wildfire activity in Arizona]

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

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.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Wildfires]

Arizona has seen 858 fires so far this year that have charred 205 square miles (530.95 square kilometers), up from the 854 fires spanning 187 square miles (484 square kilometers) throughout all of 2016.

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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