Arizona fire grows to over 305,000 acres (480 square miles)

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at
Mon Jun 24 23:27:50 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, June 24, 2002, p A4

Firefighters watch and wait as wildfires stop short of town
Officials say it's only a matter of time before the massive blaze
sweeps into Show Low, Ariz.

By FOSTER KLUG, The Associated Press
	SHOW LOW, Ariz. - A mammoth blaze formed by the union of two
wildfires edged closer to this evacuated mountain town without
overrunning it, but firefighters said it was only a matter of time.
	"The fire has abated a little, but we're still in a lot of danger
here," fire spokesman Jim Paxon said today on NBC's "Today" show. "We
think it's an inevitability that the fire is going to enter Show Low."
	Firefighters planned to pull back, let the fire strike and then fight
it where they can.
	"A lot of us who have been doing this game for over 30 years, and
this is the biggest and meanest fire we've been on," Paxon said on
CBS' "The Early Show."
	The fire has burned about 305,000 acres - or 480 square miles - since
it began as two blazes last week. The fires merged Sunday. About
30,000 people have fled homes from more than half a dozen towns.
	The fire has destroyed at least 186 homes, Paxon said, including 116
homes in towns just west of Show Low. The other 70 were in
Heber-Overgaard, a community 35 miles west of Show Low that was
overrun Saturday.
	"Many homes up here have been built board by board. We didn't just
walk into a subdivision where a home was already built. We built from
scratch," said 61-year-old Sue Aldrete, who was evacuated from her
Pinetop-Lakeside home Saturday. "It was a labor of love."
	Favorable weather, including light wind and cooler-than-expected
temperatures, slowed the advance of the fire Sunday. Firefighters
expected similar conditions today.
	Fire crews worked on a firebreak in a nearby canyon to try to cut off
an eastward route for the fire. Work had been abandoned earlier
because of dangerous conditions.
	Show Low, population 7,700, was mostly empty as the flames approached
the town's outskirts. All the new cars at Show Low's Hatch Toyota were
off the lot, while RVs, pickups and cars abandoned by evacuees covered
the parking lot at the Kmart and Family Dollar.
	Show Low residents were ordered out late Saturday after the flames
jumped a fire line that crews were building about eight miles west of
town, and the 3,500 residents of neighborhing Pinetop-Lakeside
followed Sunday.
	The wildfire has burned through parts of the evacuated towns of
Linden, Pinedale, Clay Springs and Heber-Overgaard.
	"Obviously, the waiting is the worst part - and not knowing. You try
not to speculate too much, and you try not to be optimistic
prematurely, but what is there to do?" said Rick Honsinger, 37, a high
school math teacher who evacuated Heber-Overgaard last week with his
wife and four children.
	The larger of the fires that came together Sunday was thought to have
been caused Tuesday by people, although authorities didn't know
whether it was an accident or arson. The other was started Thursday by
a lost hiker signaling for help.
	Some relief could come over the next few days, said Tom Wordell, a
fire analyst at the National Interagency Fire Center.
	"We're going to see very hot conditions, but the winds should taper
down. It shouldn't have the potential to grow as large as fast," he
said. "We're hoping for the best."
	Across the West, 17 large fires were burning on nearly 722,000 acres
in seven states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
	In Colorado, crews fought a 62,500-acre blaze that had destroyed 45
homes in the southwestern corner of the state.

Comment by poster: This evenings news indicated the fire now covered
an area larger than Multnomah County in Oregon. Imagine a small county
completely burnt. This is  the beginning of the West's fire season
this year...

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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