Most evacuated by Arizona brush fire allowed to go home

AP News
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Posted: Jun 18, 2015 11:56 AM

KEARNY, Ariz. (AP) — A smoky brush fire near a rural Arizona community forced hundreds of residents to evacuate as flames tore through at least two residences, but most have been allowed to go home, officials said Thursday.

The wildfire burning in the dry Gila River bed near Kearny, about 85 miles southeast of Phoenix, grew overnight to 400 acres. The blaze has been chewing through salt cedar trees since Wednesday morning.

A handful of people who live close to a riverbed must stay away because of their homes' proximity to the fire, Arizona State Forestry spokesman Mike Reichling said. Some firefighters who faced triple-digit temperatures have suffered heat-related problems, but there are no serious injuries, he said.

The blaze is not contained at all, but it's mostly relegated to the riverbed, and about 200 firefighters have kept it burning away from the town of 2,000 residents, officials said. Crews planned an assessment later Thursday to get an updated containment figure.

The brush fire started around 11 a.m. Wednesday. Fanned by wind gusts of up to 15 mph, it doubled in size almost every hour and threatened at least 25 structures — reportedly burning to within 40 yards of some homes.

"We're kind of at the mercy of what the winds are going to do," said Mark Clark, a spokesman for the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.

Of those evacuated, about half were residents of a trailer park that also was evacuated in 2013 when lightning sparked a 500-acre fire in the same riverbed.

State Sen. Barbara McGuire said the fire looked "like a war zone" when she drove into the town

"It looked like a volcano eruption. That's the kind of smoke there is," said McGuire, D-Kearny. "I have resided in this community for most of my life — 55 years now — and it is home to me, so I am concerned."

The cause of the fire is under investigation.