POSTED: 02:05 a.m. HST, Jun 04, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. >> Firefighters are working to contain two of the largest wildfires in Arizona’s history that together have burned through more than 300 square miles of timber and brush, prompted evacuations and sent smoke into skies 200 miles away.
Both blazes expanded Friday while dozens of other fires burned in several Western states.
Residents in the scenic White Mountain community of Alpine in eastern Arizona near the New Mexico border were ordered earlier to evacuate as the Wallow fire neared. A shelter was set up at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside. There was no exact figure on the number of evacuees.
The U.S. Forest Service said that four summer rental cabins burned earlier in the day.
As the blaze gobbled up another 15,000 acres, authorities warned residents of the town of Greer Friday night to be ready to leave.
The Apache County Sheriff’s Department issued the notice to Greer, but there was no word on when or if the residents would have to evacuate. Greer has less than 200 permanent residents but the town and area attract many vacationers.
Fire incident commander John Philbin told The Associated Press Friday night that the fire pushed northward and expanded to 120,600 acres, or 187 square miles.
That made the blaze the state’s third largest ever. The biggest, the Rodeo-Chediski, burned 469,000 acres in 2002 and the Cave Creek complex fire burned 248,000 acres in 2005. The Wallow fire just surpassed the Willow fire, which burned 120,000 acres in 2004.
“This does not foretell well for the future. Here we are with literally another five to six weeks of fire season,” said Jim Payne, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.
But Philbin said conditions should improve in the fire fight Saturday.
“For the first time in days there is no red flag warning,” he said, referring an expected reduction in winds that have been fueling the flames.
Smoke from the Alpine fire was carrying all the way to Albuquerque, N.M., more than 200 miles to the northeast.
Meanwhile, the Horseshoe Two fire burning in far southern Arizona also expanded by a few thousand acres Friday and has become the fifth-largest wildfire in state history at 90,200 acres, or 140 square miles.
The evacuation order for Paradise and East Whitetail Canyon was issued Thursday night as strong winds pushed the Horseshoe Two fire toward the towns, the Cochise County sheriff’s office said.
The nearby Chiricahua National Monument was closed as a precaution.
Beaver Creek and the other two evacuated communities are small. Paradise has about a dozen occupied homes and many other vacation residences, Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County sheriff’s office, told the AP. East Whitetail Canyon has about a dozen homes.
The Horseshoe Two fire has been burning for days and about 800 firefighters were battling it.
Another wildfire burning in northern Arizona and has charred about 100 acres near Camp Navajo, an Army National Guard Base west of Flagstaff.
Nearby Interstate 40 remains open, but fire officials cautioned the highway could be closed because of the smoke.
Smaller fires were burning near Silver City, N.M., and in Colorado, where flames came within 50 yards of some homes but no structures were damaged.
Another wildfire was burning about 50 miles east of Los Angeles in the Cleveland National Forest. And in Alaska, teams continued to battle a wildfire that threatened cabins 15 miles northwest of Fairbanks while dozens of other blazes burned in the dry Alaska interior.