June 17, 2011 / 6:46 PM / in 7 years

Arizona Governor Brewer declares fire emergency for county

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Friday declared a state of emergency for a county in the southeastern part of her state where firefighters were battling two wind-whipped blazes simultaneously,

She made the pronouncement after taking an airplane tour of the Monument Fire and the Horseshoe Two Fire, which were burning in different parts of Cochise County.

The two blazes combined have destroyed nearly 50 homes throughout Arizona, and scorched over 220,000 acres.

Meanwhile, more than 4,400 firefighters on Friday worked to protect hard-fought gains on the Wallow Fire, the largest blaze in Arizona history, during a second day of strong winds buffeting the area.

The Wallow Fire has entered its 20th day and claimed more than 495,000 acres of pine-studded acreage in the heart of the state’s White Mountains, but no serious injuries have been reported. Crews have contained about a third of the blaze.

Amid predictions of low humidity and gusty winds at the fire-ravaged Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, authorities said a red flag warning was in effect for the area with forecasts of sustained winds from 15 to 25 miles per hour and gusts of up to 45 miles per hour.

Fire spokesman John Helmich said officials were confident the lines of containment on the Wallow Fire will hold and spot blazes will be extinguished, despite adverse conditions.

A truck sprays fire retardant on the side of Highway 180 on the eastern edge of the Wallow Wildfire outside Alpine, Arizona near the state border west of the town of Luna, New Mexico June 14, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

“At the end of the day on Thursday, no lines were crossed by the fires,” Helmich said. “But they are still looking at today as a major test.”

The Wallow Fire has destroyed or damaged three dozen homes. It displaced up to 10,000 people at its peak, raging through a picturesque area near the New Mexico border dotted with vacation cabins that is a popular retreat for those escaping the state’s summer heat.

Two towns, Alpine and Greer, remain evacuated due to the Wallow Fire with residents’ return date uncertain in light of the high winds, fire officials said.

Slideshow (3 Images)

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

The fire erupted May 29, apparently from a campfire left unattended in the Bear Wallow Wilderness area, just east of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.

Forest Service officials said two “persons of interest” were being questioned by fire investigators, but no arrests have been made. The investigation continues.

The Monument Fire, which is 15 percent contained, broke out on Sunday and has destroyed 40 homes and 10 other structures, authorities said.

About 1,700 homes remain evacuated from the Monument Fire in areas near the southern Arizona city of Sierra Vista, authorities said.

The Horseshoe Two Fire has blackened 206,314 acres and is 65 percent contained, officials said. Nine homes and 14 other structures have been destroyed from that blaze.

Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Greg McCune

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