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Hot winds fan wildfires in Phoenix area forest, grasslands

June 23, 2019

SUPERIOR, Ariz. (AP) — Hot, dry winds fanned a wildfire that has burned for two weeks in a national forest east of Phoenix, but fire officials looked Saturday to forecasts that gusts would diminish and did not order more residents to leave an area where than the 700 homes are evacuated.

The fire in Tonto National Forest near Superior and Roosevelt Lake grew from about 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) on Friday to nearly 125 square miles (325 square kilometers), including areas charred by firefighters to starve the blaze of fuel, fire spokesman Dick Fleishman said.

“We’ve had strong winds the last couple of days,” he said. “It should calm down (Sunday) and be more stable.”

Another fire that started Friday afternoon on the east side of Interstate 17 and spread into Agua Fria National Monument caused traffic backups of several miles and prompted officials to advise motorists to use caution due to smoke and reduced visibility.

Containment of the Tonto forest fire decreased to about 34% as flames spread north and east, fire officials said.

No homes were damaged and no serious injuries were reported since the fire was spotted June 8 about 5 miles (8 kilometers) northwest of Superior, a mining town of fewer than 3,000 residents 60 miles (96 kilometers) east of Phoenix. The origin has not been determined, but officials say it is human-caused.

About 1,100 firefighters were battling flames burning heavy brush and some Pinyon pine in what Fleishman called steep and rugged “billy goat” terrain. Crews were aided by helicopters and air tankers working to protect a hydropower dam and a key high-voltage power line serving the Phoenix area.

A campground and roads were closed into Tonto National Monument, home to two 700-year-old cliff dwellings.

Smoke from the massive blaze prompted health warnings in Arizona and in New Mexico, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) to the east.

About 150 firefighters gained 20% containment of the fire along I-17 after it was spotted on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) south of Cordes Lakes. That’s nearly 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of Phoenix.

Officials reported a little more than 2 square miles (5.2 square kilometers) of grass and brush burned, and flames advanced to the northeast.

No structures or communities were threatened. The fire was believed to have been caused by humans and was being investigated.

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