Arizona Wildfire Rages, Bush Declares
Reuters.com, June 25, 2002
SHOW LOW, Ariz. (Reuters) - Firefighters battling one of the fiercest wildfires to scorch the U.S. West worked to shore up a key fire line protecting this small Arizona town on Tuesday, rolling out bulldozers and clearing away underbrush in a desperate effort to keep the flames at bay.
President Bush, who declared fire-ravaged areas of eastern Arizona a national disaster area Tuesday, flew in to inspect the damage caused by the monster blaze, which now covers some 375,000 acres.
"I know this is a tough moment," Bush told displaced families at a shelter in Eagar, Ariz., about 65 miles southeast of the fire line.
An estimated 30,000 people have been forced to
evacuate their homes from communities in the fire zone, which lies in
pine-studded mountain country about 150 miles northeast of Phoenix.
In Show Low, the resort town menaced by the raging 520-square-mile wildfire, firefighters said they were using bulldozers to clear away trees and controlled burns of underbrush in an effort to hold the blaze west of U.S. Highway 60 along the town's southern edge.
"If the fire moves across U.S. 60 there will be a wall of fire moving toward Show Low," said Chadeen Palmer, a fire spokeswoman.
Officials said they were cautiously optimistic their defenses would hold against the fire, now crackling within a half mile of the town center.
"We are not saying it is imminent. We are not saying we are losing hope," Palmer said, noting that the weather was helping with calmer, cooler conditions.
"HANG IN THERE"
Bush viewed firsthand the fire's monstrous path Tuesday, making a stop on his way to a Canadian summit to thank firefighters and promise federal aid to families who have lost their homes to the inferno.
"Hang in there," he told a group of about 300 evacuees and rescue workers in a high school cafeteria in Eagar.
Bush also took an aerial tour of the wildfire, flying over scorched hillsides along the fire's 180-miles perimeter and viewing huge plumes of smoke that mingled with the clouds.
Bush's visit, and the promise of federal help for fire-struck families, came after an announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that it would make $20 million immediately available to the state to help defray costs of the firefighting operation.
Arizona Gov. Jane Hull said the FEMA aid would be just "a drop in the bucket," reflecting fears among many local officials that western states could face a string of major fire disasters this year after a prolonged drought left forests and brushland dry as kindling.
Already, 20 large fires are burning in nine states with more than 2.5 million acres of land burned to date -- more than double the annual 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
As Bush toured the Arizona devastation, another fire in southwest Colorado, near Durango, grew to 66,310 acres Tuesday and has destroyed 45 homes.
The Hayman fire, which has scorched some 137,000
acres 50 miles southwest of Denver, is now 70 percent contained, although
officials are still not predicting when the 18-day-old
blaze, that has destroyed 133 houses, will be fully contained.
ARIZONA IS THE TOP PRIORITY
Show Low -- named for the winning hand in a card game between two 19th century homesteaders -- remained largely deserted Tuesday, three days after the town's 8,000 residents were told to pack their belongings and get out.
Ash drifted down on fire trucks and rescue vehicles, while the town took on the air of a military camp with police, firefighters and emergency workers helping to organize the massive rescue effort.
That fire -- now the largest wildfire in the nation -- gained strength when two blazes merged Sunday and now covers an area bigger than the city of Los Angeles.
The blaze has burned more than 329 houses and 16 businesses in the eastern Arizona high country, and firefighters were concerned that -- even if the main fire lines hold -- the town of Show Low could still be threatened if flying embers ignite "spot fires" in or around buildings.
"The sparks are going to be the most important factor today," Palmer, the fire spokeswoman, said.
Weather benefits crews fighting
Weather.com, June 25, 2002
SHOW LOW, Ariz. (AP) -- In a sign of progress against one of the worst wildfires ever to burn in the West, firefighters took advantage of calmer, cooler weather to slow the blaze as it crept within a half-mile of this mountain town.
The improved weather on Monday allowed fire crews to strengthen and complete two fire lines, then burn the area between them to create a blackened buffer zone to protect Show Low, a town of 7,700 in eastern Arizona.
"We're back to fighting this fire," fire spokesman Jim Paxon said. "It's been beating us up for a week, and we're back to fighting this monster."
The 330,000-acre fire, the largest in the state's history, has destroyed at least 375 homes in the White Mountains. Embers fell as far away as three miles from the fire.
President Bush planned to view the fire from the air on Tuesday, then make a stop on Arizona soil to be briefed on the fire, visit firefighters and meet with evacuees.
Although no more homes were lost, the number confirmed destroyed was revised upward from 329 based on a house-by-house count. Hundreds of firefighters were heading to the scene, with the total force expected to reach 5,000 to 6,000.
"A lot of things happened today and none of them were bad," Paxon said. "This is the first day in five that we didn't lose any structures."
Frustration and impatience was growing among the 30,000 evacuees, many of whom have spent days in shelters without any word about their homes. Navajo County planned to set up a telephone number residents could call to find out whether their homes were still standing.
"I feel so helpless," said Alli Klein, whose family lives in the small town of Heber, which the fire raced through on Saturday. "I wish this emotional roller coaster that I've been experiencing would end soon."
The fire still could make an end run around the fire line, but officials believed that a frontal assault on the town and on another nearby community could be averted.
A few glimpses of the destruction the fire had left behind were beginning to surface. Videotape of the Pine Crest Lake mobile home park showed nothing but burned-out shells where homes once stood.
Paxon emphasized that far more homes had been saved than destroyed. Still, some locals were prepared for the worst.
"There's some stuff left behind that was important
to me," evacuee Tad Klein said, "but it's not a big deal. What matters is I have
my family, my friends and my faith. The rest I'm not in control of."
The fire has covered 517 square miles, an area bigger than Los Angeles. The worst day was Saturday, when in a single afternoon the fire raced across seven miles of one of the country's largest stands of Ponderosa pine.
The fire has surpassed the May 2000 fire that destroyed more than 220 homes and businesses in Los Alamos, N.M., making it among the most destructive wildfires ever.
Across the country, 2.33 million acres have been burned this year by wildfires, according to the government's National Interagency Fire Center.
In Colorado, crews continued to fight a 66,310-acre blaze that had destroyed 45 homes near Durango. The fire flared Monday, forcing dozens of residents from more than 100 homes. In all, some 1,200 homes have been evacuated.
South of Denver, a 137,000-acre blaze that had destroyed at least 133 homes was reported 69 percent contained.
In Show Low, many homes on the western edge of town
were tagged with red flags, a signal that firefighters would not try to save
them because of thick underbrush or wood-shingled roofs.
Brown plumes of smoke spiraled into a hazy sky that blocked the sun and cast an eerie orange glow. Ash piled up in gutters and on cars.
Becky and Dany Seymour were among those who refused to leave their Show Low homes.
"We had a good view and since this began we've been watching and really we had no fear until yesterday afternoon," Becky Seymour said. "Then smoke and a lot of ash started coming this way, but we just have faith everything's going to be all right."
Still, the Seymours had packed a trailer and were ready to make their getaway.
Ted Heming, a retiree who has lived in Heber for
six years, did not know what he would do if his home is lost. But he has some
idea of where he might go if he had to pull up stakes.
"Somewhere where it rains a lot," he said. "Maybe Seattle."
Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Out of Control Arizona Fire Chars 250,000 Acres
SHOW LOW, Arizona, June 23, 2002 (ENS) - Two fires burning in separate areas of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest ran together last night despite the efforts of thousands of firefighters to control them. A total of about 250,000 acres is now ablaze in the White Mountains of central eastern Arizona.
Both fires were caused by human activities, and fire officials have requested an arson investigator.
Officials evacuated 7,700 people from the resort town of Show Low Saturday as flames from the Rodeo fire advanced north, east and west of where it was burning last week three miles north of Cibecue
Firefighters fled from a fire line they had been building as the blaze roared closer. It has consumed about 160,000 acres and is still burning out of control in ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, juniper, and manzanita forest.
A major Arizona Public Service 500 KV power line is
in the path of the fire's northward run.
A new fire called the Chediski Fire located 12 miles west of the Rodeo Fire started on the Ft. Apache Indian Reservation Thursday afternoon. This human caused blaze quickly spread to 85,000 acres and was not under control when it burned together with the Rodeo fire last night to form a solid wall of flames and smoke.
Smoke driven into Heber and Overgaard prompted public officials to evacuate another 4,000 to 5,000 people.
Heber and Overgaard are still evacuated and residents of Forest Lakes subdivision were evacuated yesterday. Evacuation centers are open in Winslow and Holbrook.
The combined fire is spreading north and has crossed the Mogollon Rim and Highway 260. Extremely dry fuels and rugged terrain continue to present significant control and logistical problems for the firefighters and support personnel.
Crews, engines and dozers have completed a fireline on the southwest and southeast flanks of the Chediski fire.
Of the 179 new fires that were reported on Saturday
across the country, five grew to large fires, including two in Colorado. Five
large fires were contained in southern California and Utah.
In all, 17 large fires are burning in seven states, and more than 2.2 million acres of land have burned to date.
Extreme fire conditions exist in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. Little rain is expected.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2002. All Rights Reserved