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Fires Twice As Big*

June 19, 2002

Crews Hope for Rain as Fires Grow


Filed at 6:46 p.m. ET

As many as 4,000 people were ordered out of their homes Wednesday as a wind-whipped wildfire exploded to nearly 12,000 acres as it leaped from treetop to treetop in the mountains of eastern Arizona.

Authorities ordered the tiny towns of Linden, Pinedale and Clay Springs evacuated, said Kartha Icenhour of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The fire is about 110 miles northeast of Phoenix.

The fire had been burning on 600 acres early Wednesday before winds sent it racing through thousands of acres of juniper and pine trees. Officials feared it would soon bear down on the three hamlets, and smoke could be seen in Show Low, a community 20 miles away.

``It's moving like crazy,'' said Dorman McGann, a fire information officer for the national forest.

Authorities were investigating whether the fire was intentionally set Tuesday.

The fire was one of 16 major blazes burning across the nation Wednesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Overall, wildfires have scorched 1.75 million acres so far this year, more than double the 10-year average on this date.

There were also evacuations in New Mexico, where authorities went door-to-door in Pecos, southeast of Santa Fe, to clear 20 families from their homes in advance of a 2,200-acre wildfire.

In Colorado, crews desperately looked for an edge against two huge wildfires burning out of control, taking hope from slightly lower temperatures and weaker winds. The fires -- the largest in state history -- have gobbled up thousands of new acres this week, putting crews back on the defensive.

One of the fires ballooned by 22,000 acres on Tuesday and was burning across 135,000 acres just 35 miles southwest of Denver. It has forced thousands of people from their homes, and it sent a yellow haze over parts of the metropolitan area again Wednesday.

``We're hoping it doesn't make the big gains today it made yesterday,'' fire information officer Bobby Kitchens said. ``Because the humidity is higher, our crews should make good progress in containment.''

Cooler weather also favored California firefighters battling a half-dozen major blazes. Winds had also died down near Yosemite National Park, where nearly 15,000 acres have burned and three firefighters were killed in an air tanker crash Monday.

Federal investigators were at the scene Wednesday hoping to determine why the wings of the C-130A snapped off before the crash.

In Colorado, authorities warned that a 44,320-acre fire in the state's southwestern corner could grow to more than 100,000 acres.

Smoke and haze drifted over the Durango area as the fire burned in forests around two reservoirs. It has destroyed at least 10 homes and six buildings, and more than 2,400 people have been evacuated.

Crews were more focused on saving homes than battling the fire itself because it was spreading so quickly.

``We're a long way from having a handle on the fire,'' information officer Mark Morrow said. ``We don't want to lose homes that have already been saved once.''

The fire near Denver has destroyed at least 25 houses and about 7,500 people have been forced from their homes since June 8. A Forest Service employee, Terry Barton, faces a court appearance Thursday on charges that she started the fire.

The situation with the two Colorado fires was so drastic that President Bush declared the fires a major disaster and ordered federal aid to help state and local efforts in areas hit by wildfires since April 23. Federal funding will include disaster housing, grants, and other programs.


On the Net:

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

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