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Wildfire forces firefighters to flee base

Darlene Benford of Alpine, Ariz, packs up her car beneath an orange sky on Thursday as the Wallow Fire burns.Greg Bryan / The Arizona Daily Star via AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

One of the largest wildfires in Arizona's history cast an orange glow over people fleeing their mountain homes as several cabins burned, smoke grayed the sky 200 miles away and firefighters were forced to move their base to safer grounds.

Dozens of other fires blazed in several Western states.

The U.S. Forest Service said Friday at least four summer rental cabins burned in the Wallow wildfire that was consuming dead and dry trees and brush in the White Mountains near the New Mexico border.

At 165 square miles, or 106,000 acres, the Wallow fire has now become the fourth-largest wildfire in state history. The Rodeo-Chediski burned 469,000 acres in 2002, the Cave Creek complex fire burned 248,000 acres in 2005, and the Willow fire burned 120,000 acres in 2004.

Meanwhile, the Horseshoe Two fire burning in southern Arizona has become the fifth-largest wildfire in state history at 86,000 acres.

"That's really significant," said Jim Payne, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman. "This does not foretell well for the future. Here we are with literally another five to six weeks of fire season."

Some 2,000 people in the various areas were cleared out, including the town of Alpine, as the Wallow fire more than doubled since Thursday morning.

"Alpine's going to be in danger," the Arizona Republic quoted fire spokesman William Bishop as saying. "I don't think we've seen the full potential" of the fire.

Crews had been based in Alpine but were leaving due to the conditions, the Arizona Daily Star reported. A spot fire started near the grade school there overnight but was quickly extinguished.

The base was being moved to a town in nearby New Mexico.

A shelter was set up at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside. There was no exact figure on the number of evacuees.

Smoke from the Alpine fire was carrying all the way to Albuquerque, N.M., more than 200 miles to the northeast.

A "critical fire weather" warning was issued for the region Friday by the National Weather Service. Temperatures in the 80s and gusts up to 45 mph were expected.

More than 600 firefighters were battling the blaze, which was zero percent contained.

Second large fire
In southeast Arizona, the Horseshoe Two Fire forced the evacuation of two areas, Paradise and East Whitetail Canyon.

The Chiricahua National Monument was closed Thursday as a precaution.

The blaze has been burning for days and has charred about 135 square miles of brush and timber. Officials said it had been 75 percent contained until the winds picked up, dropping containment down to 50 percent.

About 800 firefighters are battling the blaze. No structures have been lost.

The U.S. Forest Service said crews are working to protect structures in the evacuated communities.

Paradise has about a dozen occupied homes and many other vacation residences, said Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff's office. East Whitetail Canyon has about a dozen homes.

Meanwhile, a wildfire burning in northern Arizona has threatened the closure of part of Interstate 40 west of Flagstaff. The Engineer Fire has burned about 100 acres near Camp Navajo, an Army National Guard Base in Bellemont.

Fires were also burning Friday near Silver City, N.M., and in Colorado, where flames came within 50 yards of some homes but no structures were damaged.

Another wildfire was burning about 50 miles east of Los Angeles in the Cleveland National Forest.

And in Alaska, teams continued to battle a wildfire that threatened cabins 15 miles northwest of Fairbanks while dozens of other blazes burned in the dry Alaska interior.