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Wildfire Stops Short of Ariz. Town

June 24, 2002

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SHOW LOW, Ariz. (AP) _ A mammoth blaze formed by the union of two wildfires edged closer to this evacuated mountain town on Monday and firefighters said it was only a matter of time before it overran the community.

``The fire has abated a little but we’re still in a lot of danger here,″ 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.″

Firefighters planned to pull back, let the fire strike and then fight it where they can.

The fire has burned about 305,000 acres _ nearly 480 square miles, slightly larger than sprawling Los Angeles _ since it began as two blazes last week. The fires merged on Sunday. About 30,000 people have fled more than half a dozen towns.

Flames have destroyed at least 186 homes, Paxon said, including 116 in towns just west of Show Low. The other 70 were in Heber-Overgaard, a community 35 miles west of Show Low that was overrun Saturday.

``Many homes up here have been built board by board. We didn’t just walk into a subdivision where a home was already built. We built from scratch,″ said 61-year-old Sue Aldrete, who was evacuated from her Pinetop-Lakeside home Saturday. ``It was a labor of love.″

Favorable weather, including lighter, northeasterly wind at 10 to 15 mph and lower-than-expected temperatures, was expected to help firefighters on Monday. Similar conditions on Sunday slowed the advance of the fire.

Fire crews fortified a firebreak that had been bulldozed just west of town to try to cut off an eastward route for the fire.

Firefighters patrolled behind the line and in Show Low itself, looking for spot fires started by drifting embers.

Paxon said firefighters faced two possibilities, depending on the wind: ``One is if the fire builds a big plume-dominated head and a wall of flame roars into Show Low. The other is the wind throws embers into town and those dry fuels ignite.″

Show Low, population 7,700, was mostly empty, but some evacuees held on to their optimism.

``I think most of our businesses and homes are going to be saved. You have to think that way otherwise you’ll be in trouble,″ said Show Low resident Mari Corella.

The wildfire has overrun parts of the evacuated towns of Linden, Pinedale, Clay Springs and Heber-Overgaard.

The larger of the fires that came together Sunday was thought to have been caused Tuesday by people, although authorities didn’t know whether it was an accident or arson. The other was started Thursday by a lost hiker signaling for help.

Some relief could come over the next few days, said Tom Wordell, a fire analyst at the National Interagency Fire Center.

``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,″ he said.

Across the West, 19 large fires were burning on nearly 770,000 acres in seven states on Monday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In southwestern Colorado, crews fought a 62,500-acre blaze that had destroyed 45 homes near Durango.

A larger, 137,000-acre blaze south of Denver had destroyed at least 133 homes and was 69 percent contained. The interagency center said about 2,200 people remained under evacuation orders, down from 8,900 last week.

A woman’s death three days after the start of that blaze has been blamed on a severe asthma attack brought on by smoke, the first death directly related to the fire. Ann Dow, 50, collapsed June 11 after telling her husband she couldn’t breathe.

___ On the Net:

Show Low: http://www.ci.show-low.az.us/

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov/

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