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Wildfire Threatens Small Arizona Town

BY Admin  June 24, 2002 at 2:45 PM EST

Fire spokesman Jim Paxon said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show, ”We think it’s an inevitability that the fire is going to enter Show Low.”

“The fire has abated a little but we’re still in a lot of danger here.”

About 30,000 people have already evacuated towns in eastern Arizona where two wildfires combined on Sunday to create one massive force. More than 1,600 firefighters and other personnel have been working to contain the blaze, but most of the fire is not under control. The fires have already traveled across 305,000 acres and destroyed 186 homes.

The blaze outside Show Low is 50 miles wide and is shooting flames some 200 feet into the air.

Firefighters have reinforced a firebreak west of town and are patrolling the area looking for fires set by flying embers. The firebreaks are created by clearing large swaths of trees in the fire’s path in the hopes of removing all possible fuel. Most of the lines have proved ineffective, however, as tall, dry Ponderosa pines shoot flames and flying embers far into the sky.

Paxon said they expect to be putting out fires within Show Low regardless of the force with which the wildfire hits the town.

He said possible scenarios include a “big plume-dominated head and a wall of flame” roaring into Show Low, or wind-thrown embers landing in town and starting separate fires.

Some weather-watchers say light winds and milder temperatures will help slow the fire’s pace.

“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,” Tom Wordell, a fire analyst at the National Interagency Fire Center, said. “We’re hoping for the best.”

The two original fires were set by people, authorities say. The smaller fire was set by a hiker signaling for help, but officials are investigating whether the larger blaze was an accident or arson.

Nineteen fires are raging through seven additional states in the West. Crews have mostly contained wildfires in Colorado, including one near Denver that was allegedly started by a Forest Service employee.