Arizona wildfires force thousands from homes
The second-largest wildfire in Arizona history roared across a craggy eastern swath of the state on Tuesday, chasing thousands of residents from their homes and threatening to march into New Mexico.
Powerful gusts flung embers onto parched vegetation and continued to stoke the Wallow fire, which has burned more than 300,000 acres and destroyed 10 structures in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest area since it began last month. The uncontained blaze threatened nearly 350 structures Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
The region’s steep, pine-dotted terrain and flame-fanning weather have thwarted a counterattack by 2,100 firefighters, 20 helicopters and eight bulldozers.
“The fire moves so fast. It’s the same as holding a matchstick upside down,” said Jim Hyland, a spokesman for the firefighting operation, which has drawn crews from around the country.
The blaze, whose cause is under investigation, has halted life in a portion of Arizona, with Gov. Jan Brewer declaring a state of emergency in two counties and transportation officials closing about 150 miles of highways. Picturesque communities, including Greer and Alpine, have mostly emptied out, and authorities warned hundreds of residents in nearby Springerville that they too may need to flee.
On Tuesday afternoon, evacuation orders expanded to parts of Eagar, a town of about 4,500 people. Nancy Golightly, 66, a real estate agent who lives near the forest there, prepared to head to a high school with her cats, Billy, Bobby and Joey.
Friends had helped her move her firewood and spray her log home with water, and firefighters had trimmed nearby trees. But she wondered what she’d return to should the flames sweep through.
“The fire is right behind me,” she said. “The sky is just black. It’s been raining down ashes, and the smoke has been bad for days. And the sun is red — blood red.”
Across the border in New Mexico, authorities told the community of Luna to prepare for a possible evacuation, as the National Weather Service warned that winds up to 35 mph and humidity as low as 7% could continue through Wednesday. In both states, smoke obscured mountain views and prompted some residents to don face masks. Haze also drifted into Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.
The Wallow fire is the largest of several blazes charring the Southwest, including the Murphy and Horseshoe Two fires in Arizona and the Miller fire in New Mexico.