FARMINGTON — Winds swept through San Juan County, the Navajo Nation and southeastern Utah on Sunday, toppling telephone poles, splitting trees and temporarily cutting power to thousands of customers.
"We had one (gust) in Kirtland where a shed roof blew off," said Rodney Romero, Farmington Electric Utility System assistant director.
Four Corners Regional Airport at 4 p.m. on Sunday reported a wind gust up to 59 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. Sunday's winds were some of the strongest in the state, according to the weather service.
Authorities warn residents to avoid downed power lines and fires during heavy winds.
About 2,200 Farmington Electric Utility System customers living in the Mesa Manzano Subdivision outside Bloomfield lost power at about 5 p.m. on Sunday, Romero said, when winds ripped an electric line from a telephone pole at the Bergin Substation. Crews returned power at about 6:20 p.m., he said.
Crews were dispatched throughout the county, too, responding to failing phone and TV cables and trees that had fallen on electric lines.
"Those are probably the second strongest winds that I've seen in about a year," said Eugene John, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority's Shiprock district manager.
John said winds were so strong they blew open a transmission switch and turned off power to about 1,000 customers from Shiprock to Sheep Springs and Upper Fruitland. But the power came back after 10 minutes, he said.
Red Mesa and Sweet Water, both in Arizona, lost power also as part of a larger Rocky Mountain Power 5,400-meter outage that affected communities as far north as Moab, Utah, said the utility's spokesman, David Eskelsen. Power was completely restored at 11:09 a.m. Monday, he said. Winds had toppled nine of the company's nearly 100-foot tall transmission poles, he said.
Andy Ebner, a Farmington Fire Department captain, said residents should not only avoid fallen power lines but also anything those lines touch. The electricity, he said, can energize trees, homes, fences and many other objects.
Most of the county is in severe drought, and fires are a serious threat, he said. The fire department encourages residents to avoid all fires — even campfires — when the wind is blowing 10 miles per hour or stronger.
"It's quite obvious if a fire were to catch in a wildland area or an open area, it's going to be a wind-driven fire and travel very fast," he said.
Property owners should clear and throw away — not burn — tumble weeds and brush blowing near their homes and trim back or remove standing dead trees, he said.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Jason Frazier said high winds in the Four Corners are common from mid-March to late May, but recent gusts have been unusually high.
He told Farmington residents to expect 40- to 45-mile-per-hour gusts Tuesday, and the dry winds will likely continue through the week, he said.