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Wildfire raging in Arizona now state’s largest

Massive blaze also causing damage on N.M. border

By Marc Lacey
New York Times / June 15, 2011

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PHOENIX — The massive Wallow Fire raging through eastern Arizona and neighboring New Mexico has become the largest fire in Arizona’s history, officials said yesterday.

As of yesterday morning, the fire had burned more than 469,000 acres, surpassing the 468,000 acres torched in the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire, which affected a nearby area in Arizona’s White Mountains.

The big difference between the two megafires, though, has been the damage. The Wallow Fire has been far less destructive, destroying only 31 homes compared with 465 lost a decade ago.

The Wallow Fire is named after the Bear Wallow Wilderness in the Apache and Sitgreaves national forests, where the fire is believed to have started after a campfire blew out of control on May 29. The fire was 18 percent contained as of yesterday, which firefighters said represented major progress, even though containing could still take weeks.

“As far and wide and long as this fire is, 18 percent contained is small, but it’s something and it shows a lot of work has been done,’’ said Helene Holguin, a spokeswoman for the multiagency firefighting effort.

Residents from Eagar and Springerville, two Arizona communities on the northern edge of the fire, were allowed to return to their homes Sunday after several days away.

But the fire continued eating up forest as winds pushed it northeast. Firefighters were furiously burning backfires in an attempt to contain the blaze, which had extended into New Mexico and threatened the small town of Luna.

The fire has sent plumes of smoke over a vast area and tied up traffic as many highways have been closed.

Dry weather and fierce winds have caused the fire to spread quickly, frustrating the more than 4,000 firefighters assigned to the blaze.

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