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Firefighters struggle to save Arizona communities

Almost 1,600 people fight to gain control of wildfires that have burned more than 170,000 acres in central Arizona.

Associated Press
Published July 1, 2005


PHOENIX - Firefighters cleared brush and dug containment lines Thursday as they tried to stop a wildfire burning in central Arizona from reaching four nearby communities and forests weakened by tree-killing beetles.

The fire, which has charred more than 170,000 acres, was just five miles east of Black Canyon City and Interstate 17, connecting Phoenix and Flagstaff. No evacuations were planned, though officials said they might need to close the highway periodically through the holiday weekend if the smoke worsens.

"It's looking real good," said firefighter spokeswoman Emily Garber. "Our big concern is protecting the east flank and Black Canyon City. We think we have enough lag time to do so."

Residents, meanwhile, watched and waited. "You might as well take it with a grain of salt, a sense of humor, and pray for the best," said Scooter Grider of Black Canyon City, a town of about 2,700.

Almost 1,600 people were fighting the fire. Crews stationed between the fire's western flank and Black Canyon City were trying to push the fire south into an area already scorched by an earlier fire. Firefighters also helped residents clear brush from around their homes, in case fire lines don't hold.

To the north and east, firefighters worked to stop flames from jumping the Verde River and reaching the city of Camp Verde, about 25 miles away.

Authorities worried that if the fire jumped the river, it could also move closer to the towns of Pine and Strawberry, which are just three miles apart and combined have fewer than 5,000 year-round residents. The forest surrounding the towns has been hard hit in recent years by tree-killing beetles, leaving plenty of dead trees as fuel.

The National Interagency Fire Center said Thursday that 22 active large fires were burning across nearly 1-million acres in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

In Nevada, firefighters stopped wildfires short of a southern Nevada railroad town and said huge blazes burning in a vast area inhabited by tortoise and bighorn sheep were about half contained.

Favorable weather was predicted through the weekend, and fire lines bulldozed through the mountains were holding about nine miles south of the town of Caliente, Nev., said a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

[Last modified July 1, 2005, 01:25:06]


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