Two of the fires are on the AZ/NM border.
A raging wildfire threatened the small town of Alpine near the New Mexico line Thursday, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
The Wallow Fire grew tenfold in size in a day as strong winds fanned the flames and has now blackened over 60,000 acres in five days. As the blaze bore down on Alpine, officials ordered a mandatory evacuation at 5 p.m., giving residents just three hours to get out.
They later ordered residents of Nutrioso, northwest of Alpine, to leave their homes.
Alpine summer resident Teresa Tinter said memories of the massive 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire had leapt into everyone's minds the past few days, and Apache County sheriff's officials have started comparing it to that historic blaze because of the rapid speed at which it is growing and the panic it's beginning to cause in the area. The Rodeo-Chediski Fire burned over 460,000 acres.
"I'm just hoping for the best. I have a lot of faith in the firefighters," said Tinter, who was in the process of evacuating. "Right now, we're just concerned for everyone's safety."
Jonetta Trued, spokeswoman for the Eastern Arizona Incident Management Team, said that a very active fire season was predicted six months ago and "it's becoming all too true."
Firefighters are racing to construct containment lines, using roads and fuel breaks, as they battle to save homes and other buildings in Alpine, authorities said. More than 600 people, six helicopters, four air tankers and 14 engines are engaged in fighting the Wallow Fire blaze, one of four major fires burning in the state. All the firefighters were focused on protecting Alpine from the flames late Thursday as embers from the fire began blowing into the town.
"Boots on the ground make a huge difference in protecting structures," Trued said.
The Apache County Sheriff's Office told residents at a community meeting prior to evacuation to go to Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside, where the Red Cross was setting up a relief center.
By Wednesday, the fire had burned only 6,700 acres but expanded rapidly on Thursday because of low humidity, high winds and dry conditions. The winds also shifted to the northeast, putting the 600 to 1,000 people who live in the Alpine area in jeopardy.
"The weather's up against them (firefighters) and it's running real fast," said William Bishop, a spokesman for the Eastern Arizona Incident Management Team.
And he said the rugged, steep terrain has made it "extremely difficult" to fight the blaze.
Fire officials said the Wallow Fire, which primarily is burning in Apache County, is "not contained at all."
The fire has developed a "thermal column," a cloud of hot air and smoke stretching 30,000 feet high. Fire officials said the column can create its own weather, fueling the flames. The column also can launch embers far outside the fire, starting new blazes.
Embers from the thermal column began causing spot fires in Alpine as residents were evacuating.
Springerville and Eagar, near the blaze, have been smothered in smoke the past few days.
"You couldn't hardly see 100 feet in front of you," Springerville Town Manager Steve West said.
West, as well as his counterpart in Eagar, Bill Greenwood, said they are concerned about the smoke affecting people with respiratory problems. The change in wind patterns Thursday gave both towns a break from the smoke.
"Some people will leave for the day just to get away from the smoke," Greenwood said. "The way the smoke billows, it looks like it's a mile away."
The National Weather Service expects high winds and dry conditions today for much of northern and eastern Arizona, including the region where the Wallow Fire is burning.
Fire officials said there was a potential for the fire to grow because of hotter and drier conditions.
Firefighters are also combating three other fires across the state:
- Engineer Fire - Coconino National Forest fire crews responded to another blaze about noon Thursday two miles south of Interstate 40 and 12 miles west of Flagstaff. The 120-acre blaze was within one mile of Interstate 40.
Two helicopters, two air tankers, nine engines and more than 100 personnel were dispatched to fight the blaze.
Officials said that if the fire got within half a mile of Interstate 40, it would be closed.
They said no evacuations had been ordered and no structures were threatened. The cause remains under investigation.
Horseshoe Two Fire - The blaze has burned for about three weeks and has consumed over 86,000 acres in southeast Arizona near Portal.
Coronado National Forest officials said more than 930 people have fought the fire, which was 50 percent contained. Officials believe it will be fully contained in two or three weeks. The fire is human-caused.
Winds and dry condition still exist, but Mary Rasmussen, spokeswoman for the Southwest Arizona Incident Management Team, said the winds were "working with us," because they were blowing back into the burned area.
Murphy Fire - This fire, which began Monday afternoon in southern Arizona, was burning about four miles west of Tubac and had grown to more than 14,000 acres, officials said. It also is human-caused.
The fire was burning in steep terrain, making it difficult for firefighters to establish a fire line, officials said. The blaze was 15 percent contained. Almost 200 personnel, eight engines and one helicopter are fighting the fire.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2011/06/03/20110603arizonafires0603.html#ixzz1OFPSSqBg
Smoky air, health concerns continuing
City, state issue alert
Updated: Friday, 03 Jun 2011, 9:33 AM MDT
Published : Friday, 03 Jun 2011, 9:33 AM MDT
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - With a raging forest fire in Arizona pumping smoke into New Mexico, skies in northern and central counties will remain hazy to socked-in at least through Friday night.
Most of the smoke is coming from the Wallow Fire near the New Mexico border in eastern Arizona. At last report strong winds had pushed it over more than 40,000 acres as it burns out of control.
On Friday morning the National Weather Service forecast office in Albuquerque distributed this statement:
The following updated message is transmitted at the request of the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management as well as the city of Albuquerque Air Quality Division.
The Wallow Fire near Alpine, Arizona, grew significantly on Thursday June 2nd producing an extensive and far-reaching plume of smoke across western and northern New Mexico. The smoke--locally dense in areas--reached as far east as the Rio Grande Valley and neighboring areas of the central mountain chain and north to the Chama area late Thursday.
Many locations along the Rio Grande Valley experienced improving visibility and dispersion just before daybreak. However, residual smoky conditions will persist through at least mid-morning for many areas. Visibilities ranging from 2 to 4 miles in smoke maybe encountered near Santa Fe and from the Grants area northeast to Cuba and points north.
Those with respiratory illnesses or related issues should avoid using their swamp coolers and should stay indoors until conditions improve later this morning.
The weather pattern is not expected to change significantly today. Therefore smoke will likely result in hazy skies over western and northern New Mexico and may return tonight depending upon fire conditions over eastern Arizona.