Rural Arizonans wait while wildfire spreads unhindered


At least 2,500 homes in Gila County have been evacuated, said Carl Melford, the county’s emergency manager. He estimates that there are twice as many households in “set” mode with bags packed just in case.

“We’ve had some pretty extreme fire seasons over the past three years,” said Melford, who has bags on his doorstep. “We have become very familiar with the process and evacuation of a community. But this is the largest evacuation to date.”

Becky Stephenson, 37, whose Globe home is on a hill near US Highway 60, is yards from a “fixed” status zone. Even so, she decided to have essentials, including her parrot Buddy and his travel cage, close at hand.

It was surreal to see flames climb trees from their home on Monday night when the fire reached the Pinal Mountains and created an eerie orange glow, Stephenson said.

“Honestly, it makes me feel like I can’t wait for them to get a grip on it and I can go out there and start helping them regrow,” said Stephenson, a plant biologist. “It’s really sad to think of all the burnt plants and all the animals that lost their habitat during the breeding season.”

In the meantime, the superior residents remain in “set” mode. But about 400 people in the nearby Top-Of-The-World have been evacuated, said Lauren Reimer, a spokeswoman for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.

American Red Cross officials say a total of 90 residents were in shelters in Globe and Mesa as of Monday.

Almost 750 firefighters are working on the fire, which has gained momentum in recent days thanks to gusty winds and low humidity. The Type 1 Incident Management team in the Southwest, the highest tier, is conducting some controlled fires and dropping flame retardants in other areas.

Dean McAlister, a spokesman for the fire control center, said crews had successfully kept the fire in check in some spots on Tuesday afternoon. They closely monitor a built fire line that is on the east side of the fire.

“The intent is to create a glove to trap the fire as it moves further east and we want to try to stop the fire before it gets any further into the Globe area,” said McAlister.

The fire was man-made. However, the firefighters did not provide any further details.

A few miles east of the wildfire, the smaller mescal fire had a 23% containment on Tuesday. Fire officials overturned evacuation orders for residents of the San Carlos community and the Soda Canyon and Coyote Flats areas. But the East El Capitan community was still under forced evacuation.

The fire burned nearly 105 square miles (13 square kilometers) – mostly desert scrub, oak, and grass. It was first reported southeast of Globe on June 2.

The cause is still being investigated.

In northern Arizona, a much smaller wildfire blocked a section of US Highway 180 on Tuesday. The fire, which was only 5 square kilometers, was reported 23 miles (37 kilometers) northwest of Flagstaff on Monday. The cause is unknown. ____

Associate press writers Bob Christie and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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