Arizona firefighters worked through the night fighting the Telegraph fire, a wildfire that started east of Phoenix on Friday and burned more than 80,800 acres (33,000 hectares).
Officers said wednesday the fire is 21% contained, but it spans two counties, has forced thousands of evacuations in rural towns and has closed nearly all major roads outside the area.
The fire, now the 10th largest in the state’s history, is believed to have been caused by humans, but the flames have been fueled by dry, windy conditions and temperatures reaching 90 and 100 degrees.
Arizona, like much of the western United States, faces severe drought conditions and the environment is so dry that even fire crews fighting the blaze have sparked new ignitions.
“Even our own firefighting team is starting fires,” Dean McAlister, a fire information officer, said during his briefing Tuesday night. “The blades and tracks of the (heavy equipment) sparking against the fuels have actually created some fires along the firing line.” He warned residents to avoid the area for safety reasons and to make sure additional vehicles don’t accidentally add new outbreaks.
A tuesday night report indicated that the efforts of fire managers were hampered by members of the public entering enclosed areas and that an unauthorized vehicle got stuck in the line of fire.
“Public incursions not only endanger firefighters, but detract from their primary mission: to put out the fire,” authorities said in the report. “Even with efforts to protect all assets at risk, fire managers confirmed that the fire destroyed two residences and three outbuildings.”
One of the 5 structures burned was a home owned by Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who toured the destroyed property Tuesday. The home was not their primary residence, but a family haven, said House Republican spokesman Andrew Wilder.
Despite difficult conditions, McAlister said crews were beginning to feel optimistic about containing the fire. “Things are looking pretty good for the situation that we have, with the climate that we have,” McAlister said.
Meanwhile, thousands will remain under evacuation orders.
At least 2,500 homes in Gila County have been evacuated, said Carl Melford, county emergency manager. He calculated that there are twice as many households that are in “configured” mode with bags packed just in case.
“In the last three years, we’ve had pretty extreme fire seasons,” said Melford, who has suitcases on the doorstep of his home. “We have become very familiar with the process, with what it takes to evacuate a community. But this is the largest evacuation to date. “
Becky Stephenson, 37, whose Globe home sits on a hill near US 60, is feet away from an area in “settled” status. Still, he decided to have the essentials, including his pet parrot, Buddy, and his travel cage, ready to go.
Watching the flames climb the trees Monday night from his home as the fire made its way into the Pinal Mountains and created an eerie orange glow was surreal, Stephenson said.
“It honestly makes me feel like I can’t wait until they get it under control and I can get out there and start helping them re-vegetate,” said Stephenson, who is a plant biologist. “It’s really sad to think of all the burning plants and all the animals that lost their habitat during the breeding season.”
Meanwhile, Superior residents remain in “established” mode. But about 400 people on the nearby top of the world have been evacuated, said Lauren Reimer, a spokeswoman for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.
American Red Cross officials say a total of 90 residents stayed in shelters in Globe and Mesa on Monday.
Several miles east of the wildfire, the smallest Mescal fire reached 33% containment on Wednesday. That fire has burned more than 70,000 acres (28,500 hectares), mostly desert scrub, oak trees and grasses. It was first reported on June 2 southeast of Globe. The cause is still under investigation.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism