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(PHOENIX) — Firefighters in Arizona are struggling to contain several wildfires, a taste of what could be a long and difficult season as the combination of high temperatures and extremely dry conditions raise the greater risk of wildfires across the country.

There are currently five wildfires raging across northern Arizona. So far, roughly 6,000 acres have burned, but the fires are zero-percent contained.

Residents of tiny Crown King, Ariz., had to flee their historic mining community, but for the most part, the fires are burning in a rugged, mountainous part of the state.

Still, columns of smoke are visible from downtown Phoenix, an ominous sign of what may be in store for the American West this summer. The National Interagency Fire Center predicts an above-normal wildfire season for several western states. A huge portion of the United States — from west Texas to parts of California – is already suffering through an historic drought.  This winter brought very little snow — which not only means less snowpack to melt, but more dry brush — the perfect fuel for a wildfire.

Already this season firefighters have battled wind-driven wildfires in some unlikely places, like New Jersey, and parts of New York burned in April. Despite that, this year is off to a mercifully slow start. So far less than 400,000 acres have burned. At this point last year, that number was more than two million.

As for firefighters on the ground in Arizona, the forecast offers little promise. It’s dry in the desert, but it’s also windy in the mountains. And it’s hot everywhere: temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees or higher all week.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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