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Hurricane-force winds and dry conditions combine to fuel critical fire threat in Central US

By Dalia Faheid, CNN

(CNN) — Intense winds across the Central United States this weekend are fueling critical fire danger, leaving roads closed and thousands without power in some areas.

Low relative humidity is combining with high winds to create an extreme fire weather threat across the western half of the Southern and Central Plains — the highest risk level for fire weather. Across much of the Plains, over 10 million people were under red flag warnings, spanning nearly border to border.

The widespread fire risk will persist across parts of the Central and Southern Plains through Sunday, driven by gusty, dry air and an ongoing drought. Any fires that start will be difficult to contain in the strong winds, the National Weather Service warned.

Oklahoma Forestry Services reported Sunday that an estimated 5,000 acres had burned.

On Saturday, firefighters in Oklahoma battled several wildfires across six counties amid winds as strong as 60 mph. Aircraft were brought in to slow the fires down on Saturday night, CNN affiliate KOCO reported.

One wildfire temporarily triggered evacuation orders, and two firefighters were taken to a hospital with burn injuries while battling the flames, Woodward County Emergency Manager Matt Lehenbauer told KOCO.

“Very dry conditions combined with these winds is leading to an environment favorable for wildfire growth, especially for western portions of the Southern Plains,” the weather service said.

Power outages amid wind warnings

High wind warnings were in effect from Colorado east of the Rockies into central Nebraska and Kansas through Sunday evening, with notable recorded wind gusts of 95 mph in Marshall and 93 mph in Buckeye, the National Weather Service said. The warnings were allowed to expire as winds decreased, the agency said.

As of Sunday night, around 72,000 cutomers in Colorado were without power, according to

Xcel Energy Colorado previously said it would be shutting off power to a limited set of customers in some areas due to “the exceptionally high winds and the high risk of wind-driven wildfires.”

On Sunday, Xcel said it had proactively shut off electricity to 55,000 customers on Saturday, with another 100,000 losing power due to the high winds. Crews were assessing damage but some households could be waiting until at least Monday for power to be restored, the company told CNN.

“More than 600 miles of lines were proactively de-energized, and before the power is turned back on, our crews will need to visually inspect the lines to ensure it is safe to do so,” spokesperson Tyler Bryant said.

Wind gusts over 95 mph were reported Saturday across portions of the state. The National Weather Service said winds had decreased on Sunday but parts of the foothills were still experiencing gusts of up to 80 mph.

The Colorado Department of Transportation has closed some roads due to the high winds.

Interstate 25 near Fort Collins to Colorado’s northern border was closed for 13 hours due to “safety concerns” over extreme winds before reopening Sunday afternoon, according to a post from the department on X.

Through Sunday, the National Weather Service forecasts 30 to 45 mph winds with higher gusts from eastern New Mexico to eastern Nebraska, where high-wind warnings were in effect.

The highest wind gusts were expected Sunday morning, the weather service said.

High wind warnings were also in effect in parts of Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas through Sunday.

The weather service recommended people remain indoors, warning that strong winds could cause damage to property and trees, power outages and travel difficulties.

“Remain in the lower levels of your home during the windstorm, and avoid windows,” the weather service advised. “Watch for falling debris and tree limbs. Use caution if you must drive.”

States prepped for fire risk

The fire threat prompted emergency responses in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, according to releases from the states’ emergency management operations.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday issued a verbal state of disaster proclamation, allowing resources to be used to provide state assistance, a release from the Kansas Division of Emergency Management said.

“I urge all Kansans to refrain from burning during this period of extreme fire danger,” Kelly said. “By being vigilant, taking extra precautions, and reporting any fires to your local fire department, the risk of fires getting out of control can be minimized.”

In Texas, state emergency response resources were activated on Friday, a release from the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) said.

In nearby Oklahoma, the State Emergency Operations Center was activated, officials said. Oklahoma also requested fire management assistance from FEMA to aid the wildfire response, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced.

CNN’s Chris Boyette, Sara Tonks, Paradise Afshar, Danielle Sills and Raja Razek contributed to this report.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN-Weather/Environment

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