Crews Race Two Huge Wildfires

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Crews Race Two Huge Wildfires

Sat Jun 22, 8:48 PM ET

By FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press Writer

SHOW LOW, Ariz. (AP) - Crews with bulldozers, shovels and chain saws rushed to reinforce firebreaks on Saturday in efforts to protect forest communities from two powerful, wind-driven wildfires that threatened to unite in a 50-mile-wide front.

The two blazes, just six miles apart, already had forced 8,000 people to evacuate, with about 500 more told to get out on Saturday, and thousands were warned to be ready to leave.

"When you see the flames reaching up into the sky it makes you feel very small," said Show Low resident Helen Gonzalez, who had packed important belongings into vans to be ready in case of an evacuation order. She has been taking her four children to a mountain every evening to check the fire's progress with binoculars.

"Not knowing is the hardest part," Gonzalez said. "We still do our normal stuff but we're scared."

Fire information officer Rob Deyerberg said a merged fire would move faster and burn more fuel, making it harder to fight. "If it merges it just gets worse," he said.

The larger of the two fires had exploded across 150,000 acres more than 200 square miles since starting on Tuesday, and had forced up to 4,000 people to flee Pinedale, Clay Springs and Linden. About 100 people refused to leave.

At least 12 homes and 20 smaller structures were destroyed when the fire overran Pinedale, 125 miles northeast of Phoenix.

Fire crews used bulldozers and hand tools to broaden the firebreak between that blaze and Show Low and planned to set a backfire on the west side to remove fuel from the wildfire's path.

If the fire crosses that line, at Hop Canyon eight miles west of Show Low, the city of 7,700 and neighboring Pinetop-Lakeside, with 3,500 residents, would be evacuated. Another nearby community, Hon Dah, with about 1,000 residents, also was placed on alert.

The second fire, just six miles away, had burned about 30,000 acres by Saturday and forced the evacuation of 4,000 people from Heber-Overgaard and Aripine.

Forest Lakes, about 13 miles southwest of Heber-Overgaard, also was ordered evacuated Saturday. About 500 people live in the community during the summer, said Jim Driscoll, Coconino County's emergency service coordinator.

Crews bulldozed fire lines south of those communities, said Susan Keys, a fire spokeswoman.

Wind had pushed that fire uphill and over the crest of the Mogollon Rim, a cliff that slashes across a wide area of the state, taking the flames onto fairly flat land six miles southwest of Heber-Overgaard.

"It was slower than we anticipated, which gave us some time to build a fire line," Keys said.

Lighter wind was forecast Saturday half of Friday's gusts, which reached 51 mph but authorities still expected the two wildfires to merge on Sunday, creating a 50-mile-wide front of flames in the bone-dry pine and juniper ( news - web sites) trees.

"We're short of resources, and we're in a race against time," fire spokesman Jim Paxon said.

"There's no doubt that we'll whip this fire," he said. "But it's going to take a lot of time, and it's going to gobble up a lot of country and put a lot of people at risk in the meantime."

The biggest of the two fires was thought to be manmade, although authorities didn't know whether it was an accident or arson. The second, smaller fire was started by a lost hiker signaling for help.

In hard-hit Colorado, stiff wind and high temperatures were forecast Saturday as crews battled three wildfires that had burned more than 220,000 acres.

Firefighters were able to extend containment lines around 60 percent of one fire that had burned 137,000 acres southwest of Denver, the largest in Colorado history.

Crews discovered more houses that had been destroyed by that fire, boosting the total to 114. About 420 other buildings also were destroyed. A blaze near Durango in southwestern Colorado had blackened 67,700 acres and destroyed 45 homes.

Four firefighters headed to that blaze from Oregon were killed when their van swerved out of control Friday on Interstate 70 near Parachute, 200 miles west of Denver. Seven people were injured. The deaths followed the crash earlier in the week of an air tanker that had been dropping flame retardant on a blaze in the Sierra Nevada. Three crewmen were killed when the plane's wings snapped off.

The Arizona infernos rattled nerves across a region known of normally tranquil mountains and mild weather in the White Mountains. The area of eastern Arizona draws hikers and campers and is a summer getaway for Phoenix-area residents escaping the desert heat.

Show Low resident Brian Bolton has been driving to work each day with his truck already packed with belongings, but said he tries not to think about the fire.

"It's the only healthy way to go about your day," he said, "prepare yourself but keep it in the back of your mind until something actually happens."

-- (burnin burnin @ disco. inferno), June 22, 2002

Answers

Just had a scary thought about forest fires and terrorism. If terrorists wanted to go around setting all our forests ablaze, what would stop them? If there were big fires burning in more than a dozen or so states simultaneously, we would run out of crews to fight them. Not only would people get killed, but the long term economic and environmental damage would be devastating to our country.

-- uh-oh (please@don't.happen), June 22, 2002.

Thanks for giving them the idea.

-- mooslims (better@be.nice), June 22, 2002.

We have terrorists on this forum? Oh well, Unk has their emails so the FBI will be able to find them and take their matches away.

-- Smokey the Bear (don't start @ forest. fires), June 23, 2002.

Massive Ariz. Fires Destroy 82 Homes

Sun Jun 23, 1:53 PM ET

By FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press Writer

SHOW LOW, Ariz. (AP) - Flames roared unchecked toward this mountain town on Sunday after overrunning another community in the dry, forested highlands of eastern Arizona.

At least 82 homes were destroyed as two huge wildfires burned across more than 386,000 acres and chased as many as 25,000 people from towns in their way.

By Sunday morning, the two blazes were just over a mile apart, and firefighters expected to see them merge by evening into a 50-mile-long line of flame devouring the paper-dry forest.

Directly in wildfires' path was Show Low, a town of 7,700 people and basecamp for hundreds of firefighters.

"The fire is going to move through Show Low," fire spokesman Jim Paxon announced Sunday morning. He said it could hit the western outskirts of town during the afternoon.

"We're going to get beat up pretty hard," he said.

Show Low's residents were ordered out late Saturday after the flames jumped a fire line crews had been building about eight miles west of town, and the 3,500 residents of neighboring Pinetop-Lakeside followed early Sunday.

Firefighters expected the fire to reach the westernmost neighborhoods of Show Low by early afternoon, Paxon said. In Linden, a small town just west of Show Low that was already evacuated, firefighters sprayed foam and wrapped houses in fireproof material as flames pushed through.

"It's gut-wrenching watching this plume of smoke come up over us and knowing what's behind it and knowing what's it's going to do to our community," said John Corder, Show Low's police chief. "My house is probably going to be one of the first houses to go. This is a monstrous fire and it's definitely going to hurt but we will recover and we will rebuild."

Sixty-eight of the destroyed homes were in Heber-Overgaard, a community 35 miles west of Show Low that was overrun Saturday, said Dorman McGann, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

However, Paxon said firefighters were able to save a large number of homes in Heber-Overgaard, whose 2,700 residents had been evacuated earlier. Air tankers dropped flame-retardant slurry directly on houses.

The wildfires earlier burned through parts of the evacuated towns of Pinedale and Clay Springs.

Gov. Jane Hull, who owns a cabin in Pinetop-Lakeside, said she expected President Bush ( news - web sites) to issue a federal disaster declaration.

"My heart breaks for the people who own cabins up there who don't know what's going on," Hull said at the state's Emergency Operations Center in Phoenix.

A steady stream of residents had headed out of Show Low late Saturday.

"It's a monster. It's awesome," said Bobby Smith, who had been staying in Show Low after having already been evacuated from Pinedale. "It's unbelievable what a big fire can do."

The area, popular with hikers and Phoenix-area residents escaping the desert heat, is covered with pinon, juniper ( news - web sites) and pine trees made explosively dry by years of drought.

The largest fire, burning since Tuesday, was thought to be human-caused, although authorities didn't know whether it was an accident or arson. The other was started Thursday by a lost hiker signaling for help.

Residents evacuated Saturday night were told to head to shelters in Eagar, 30 miles to the east, and Holbrook, 30 miles to the north.

More than 3,000 had registered at the shelter in Eagar, where cots covered the artificial turf of a domed high school football stadium, said National Guard Maj. William Wilhoit.

In southwestern Colorado, crews struggled against an unpredictable 67,700-acre blaze that had destroyed 45 homes near Durango. Cool, calm weather helped firefighters battling a larger fire south of Denver, but hot, dry weather was expected Sunday afternoon.

The 137,000-acre blaze south of Denver was 60 percent contained. It has destroyed at least 114 homes and about 420 other buildings. The National Interagency Fire Center said about 2,300 people remained under evacuation orders, down from 8,900 last week.

U.S. Forest Service employee Terry Barton was arrested last week for allegedly setting the Denver-area fire. She pleaded innocent to four federal counts, including arson, and was held on $600,000 bond.

-- (latest@fire.update), June 23, 2002.


Sadly, the largest stand of ponederosa pines in the world is being decimated : ((( From the looks of it, our property in Lakeside will be burned as well. Pray for rain.

-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), June 23, 2002.


100 more homes have gone done just in the last couple hours...

Raging Ariz. Fires Destroy 185 Homes

Sun Jun 23, 3:00 PM ET

By FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press Writer

SHOW LOW, Ariz. (AP) - Two mammoth wildfires raged unchecked through paper-dry forest Sunday, threatening to join in a 50-mile-long line of flames and burn right into this town of 7,700 people.

The blazes already had destroyed about 185 homes elsewhere in the highlands of eastern Arizona, and as many as 25,000 people had fled more than half a dozen towns, including Show Low.

"It's gut-wrenching watching this plume of smoke come up over us and knowing what's behind it and knowing what's it's going to do to our community," said Show Low Police Chief John Corder. "My house is probably going to be one of the first houses to go."

Firefighters braced to defend neighborhoods on the west side of town.

"This is going to be a tough day," said fire spokesman Jim Paxon. "We're going to get beat up pretty hard."

The fire was expected to reach the western outskirts of Show Low during the afternoon, Paxon said. Afternoon temperatures were expected in the 90s, with single-digit humidity and shifting wind.

Seventy of the houses already destroyed were in Heber-Overgaard, a community 35 miles west of Show Low that was overrun Saturday, said Dorman McGann, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

Paxon said firefighters were able to save a large number of houses in Heber-Overgaard. Air tankers had dropped flame-retardant slurry directly on rooftops.

Show Low's residents were ordered out late Saturday after flames leaped a firebreak that crews had bulldozed about eight miles west of town, and the 3,500 residents of neighboring Pinetop-Lakeside followed early Sunday.

The two wildfires had earlier overrun parts of the evacuated towns of Pinedale and Clay Springs, and late Saturday, flames jumped a bulldozed firebreak and entered Heber-Overgaard, an already-evacuated community of 2,700.

The area, popular with hikers and Phoenix-area residents who have built second homes to escape the desert heat, is covered with pinon, juniper ( news - web sites) and pine trees made explosively dry by years of drought.

Paxon said preliminary counts showed 115 homes had burned in towns just west of Show Low in a wildfire that exploded in size after starting Tuesday. It was thought to be human-caused, although authorities didn't know whether it was an accident or arson. Seventy others were burned by a smaller fire started Thursday by a lost hiker trying to signal for help.

More than 3,000 evacuees had registered at a shelter in Eagar, where cots covered the artificial turf of a domed high school football stadium, said National Guard Maj. William Wilhoit.

Show Low resident Melissa Walker had parked her motorhome outside the Eagar shelter.

"This is probably going to drive everybody out," Walker said of her hometown. "Our livelihood depends on everyone else's livelihood. The economy is going to crash."

Across the West, 17 large fires were burning on 721,806 acres in seven states on Sunday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In Colorado, crews fought a 67,700-acre blaze that had destroyed 45 homes in the southwestern corner of the state. A larger, 137,000-acre blaze south of Denver had destroyed at least 114 homes and was 60 percent contained. The National Interagency Fire Center said about 2,300 people remained under evacuation orders, down from 8,900 last week.

-- (latest@fire.update), June 23, 2002.


The smoke from these two fires has all but inundated NM yesterday and today... Respitory distress is rampant today in ABQ...

Those poor folks in Show Low...

Sneezin' and snifflin'...

The Dog

-- The Dog (dogdesert@hotmail.com), June 25, 2002.


(((AB))) (((Dog)))

-- helen (rain@dancing.for.you), June 25, 2002.

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