Image: Utah wildfire
Joe Cavaretta  /  AP
A firefighter stands near a wildfire in Utah on Tuesday. The National Interagency Fire Center said Thursday that 22 fires were burning across numerous states, including Arizona, which faces its second-largest wildfire in history.
updated 6/30/2005 6:16:20 PM ET 2005-06-30T22:16:20

A central Arizona wildfire continued to grow Thursday, creating concern in at least three communities that could be in its path, but better weather helped firefighters battle the mammoth blaze.

The Cave Creek Complex fire has charred 187,000 acres, or 292 square miles, and is the second-largest wildfire in the state's history. It was burning about 20 miles southwest of the mountain communities of Pine and Strawberry and eight miles from Black Canyon City.

"As of right now there are no evacuations, and there aren't any that we know of planned," said Rebeca Franco, a spokeswoman for fire crews. "Things could change."

Almost 1,600 people were fighting the fire, which was divided into north and south zones. The fire was 40 percent contained on the south zone, the side closest to Phoenix, but zero percent contained on the north zone.

Still hot temperatures
Firefighters in some areas got a boost Thursday from lighter winds and higher humidity. Relative humidity was at 10 percent, and winds from the southwest were expected to get up to only 20 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Phoenix.

"Things are kind of smoothing out, and that'll help firefighters," said meteorologist Ryan Kittell. "But it's still pretty hot and dry."

On the eastern flank, firefighters worked to stop flames from jumping over the Verde River. Authorities were concerned that if it crossed the river, it could push into a canyon and race into Pine and Strawberry, which are just three miles apart. The two towns have fewer than 5,000 year-round residents combined.

Slideshow: On the line

The fire hadn't crossed the river by Wednesday night but concern remained since the ponderosa pine forest surrounding the towns has been hard hit by tree-killing beetles in recent years, said Vinnie Picard, another fire spokesman.

Picard said the threat of wildfires is something residents of Pine and Strawberry, located about 100 miles northeast of Phoenix, are getting used to.

‘Hard to stay calm’
"This is an issue they seem to be dealing with a lot up there," Picard said. "But it's hard to stay calm, cool and collected when the sky is filled with smoke and they have ash covering their property."

In her weekly briefing with reporters, Gov. Janet Napolitano said the blaze "remains the most worrisome fire that we've got in the state right now."

More than 200 residents packed a Black Canyon City park Wednesday night to hear from fire officials about efforts to stop the blaze from reaching their community. Similar town hall meetings were held in Pine and Strawberry to discuss the fire and necessary precautions.

"We do have to be prepared, but there's no reason for panic," said Strawberry inn owner Cheryl Holland.

The blaze began June 21 as two lightning-started fires and destroyed 11 homes near Cave Creek, just north of Phoenix. The fire may have dealt a fatal blow to the world's largest saguaro cactus, which could be two centuries old.

The 46-foot Grand One, recognized in the National Register of Big Trees for its height, mass of limbs and a base circumference of nearly 8 feet, was scorched.

"As much as I'd like to be optimistic, I'm not," said Tonto National Forest spokeswoman Emily Garber about the saguaro's survival.

The National Interagency Fire Center said Thursday that 22 active large fires were burning across more than 975,000 acres in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

Favorable weather conditions
Good weather and an increased firefighting force helped slow huge wildfires burning Wednesday in a vast area of southern Nevada.

Improving conditions reduced the danger for a tiny railroad town that earlier watched two massive blazes burn toward it. With fire lines still about 10 miles from town, Kathy Jo Pollock, a U.S. Forest Service fire spokeswoman, said there was "no threat to the town of Caliente."

More than a thousand firefighters were working five lightning-sparked blazes in a wide area northeast of Las Vegas. Seven other blazes have been contained, and no structures have been destroyed.

Some blazes burning through vast stretches of uninhabited desert and mountains merged, with the total fire zone covering approximately 500,000 acres.

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