Arizona wildfire sets new record at 469,000 acres

EAGAR, Ariz Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:31pm EDT

1 of 15. Smoke from the Wallow Wildfire obscures the sun at a road check point west of the Reserve, New Mexico June 13, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart

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EAGAR, Ariz (Reuters) - The wildfire that has roared out of control for more than two weeks through the pine forests of eastern Arizona set a record on Tuesday as the largest in state history, having consumed over 469,000 acres.

The Wallow Fire, which authorities suspect started from an unattended campfire, has scorched dozens of homes and displaced as many as 10,000 people since it erupted May 29 in the White Mountains region, an area popular among Arizonans as a weekend getaway from the heat of summer.

The wind-whipped blaze has burned mostly in and around the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, about 150 miles east of Phoenix, churning through vast stretches of thick ponderosa pine.

Evacuation orders were lifted on Sunday for 7,000 to 8,000 residents forced to flee last week from two towns near the border with New Mexico, Springerville and Eagar.

But authorities have warned returning families that lingering smoke and soot in the air pose health risks for children and people with respiratory problems.

An estimated 1,900 additional people from several nearby towns evacuated in the first week of the blaze were notified on Monday night that it would probably be at least a few more days before they would be permitted to go back home.

While the blaze is far from being brought under control, fire managers said on Monday that they had turned a corner in their battle to curtail its advance toward populated areas.

"Nobody's really in the clear yet," U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Suzanne Flory said on Tuesday, but she added, "Overall, there's a sense of optimism."

Some 4,300 firefighters working around the clock have now carved containment lines around 18 percent of the fire's perimeter, mostly between its eastern flank and communities on either side of the Arizona-New Mexico line.

The New Mexico town of Luna, an enclave of about 200 people less than 10 miles east of the Arizona border, remains on alert for possible evacuation.

Controlled burns have been carried out on the outskirts of that town to remove tinder-dry brush and trees as potential fuel for advancing flames. But U.S. Forest Service officials say that so far the Wallow Fire itself has not crept into New Mexico.

The latest aerial infrared images of the fire on Tuesday show that 469,407 acres -- or about 733 square miles -- have burned overall, surpassing the 468,638 acres charred in 2002 by the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in eastern Arizona. That makes the Wallow Fire the largest on record in Arizona.

In terms of property losses, however, the Rodeo-Chidiski was far worse, destroying about 400 homes, Flory said.

By comparison, the Wallow Fire has so far gutted 31 homes and damaged five others. Some three dozen nonresidential structures also have been lost. But no serious injuries have been reported.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Norton)

(This article has been modified to correct the spelling of Rodeo-Chediski Fire in the12th paragraph)

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Comments (3)
WandaB wrote:
Hmmm. Anyone want to take a stab at how these fires originate?

http://cis.org/PanelTranscripts/2011KatzAward
Leo W. Banks – Journalist
It started May 8th on a smuggler trail into Horseshoe Canyon, which goes up the Chiricahuas. Border Patrol was chasing four illegals into Horseshoe. They lost them. The illegals went to the high country. And it’s still cold up there this time of year, so they set a fire – a warming fire or a cooking fire. There was a 50-mile-an-hour wind. We have unbelievable drought conditions, and off they go.

On this same trail, the Horseshoe Canyon trail, last year, we had a fire that cost $11 million to fight. It was not as big as this one, but it was a pretty big fire. Jerry Kammer and I, in fact, at the time that fire was burning, we were going along Geronimo Trail, which is a dirt road at the bottom of this smuggling corridor, and up to our left, up in the mountains, we could see the billows of smoke coming off the Chiricahuas. That was Horseshoe I. The one burning now is Horseshoe II.

Jun 14, 2011 2:24pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
DrJJJJ wrote:
Our forests are too dense! Please thank your local environmental group for me and let’s continue to import lumber products from Cananda like oil! Canadian’s say we’re the laughing stock of the world for importing lumber and oil with deficit dollars FYI!

Jun 14, 2011 4:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
auger wrote:
When your economy depends on camping tourists, some education in fire safety is a necessity. They are graced with a number of beautiful Federal areas to camp in. I guess the severe southern lightning storms this year won’t help much either.

Jun 14, 2011 7:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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