The Latest: Arizona wildfire still threatens communities

AP News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2016 8:44 PM
The Latest: Arizona wildfire still threatens communities

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Latest on wildfires burning in the West (all times local):

5:40 p.m.

Firefighters are working to secure the eastern flank of a wildfire that still threatens some communities in eastern Arizona.

Officials said Wednesday the fire that began in June 15 has burned almost 67 square miles and remains 22 percent contained.

The blaze is about 2 ½ miles north of Cedar Creek where 300 people live.

More than 15,000 people in Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low, along with others in the surrounding communities, remain under pre-evacuation notice.

Fire officials say the containment line is along the northern cap of the blaze and crews are trying to stop any expansion from reaching outside the burn scar of a wildfire in the area last year.

They say crews now will be focused on expanding fire lines and conducting burnout operations, which is increasing some smoke in the air above the communities.

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5:05 p.m.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says it's "completely unacceptable" that a drone flying near a southern Utah wildfire hampered firefighting efforts.

Herbert visited the site of the blaze Wednesday after the fire forced evacuations of at least 185 homes in the town of Pine Valley, about 35 miles north of the city of St. George.

On the governor's official Twitter account Wednesday, Herbert said evacuations "likely could have been avoided if drones hadn't interrupted air attack on the fire."

The small, unmanned aircraft have been spotted three times in the last four days and have forced authorities to ground firefighting aircraft.

The U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday that the blaze has torched more than a square mile and additional evacuations could come.

Officials say firefighting aircraft are particularly important for this wildfire burning in steep, rugged terrain.

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3:10 p.m.

An eastern Colorado sheriff photographed a dramatic scene of a small grassfire engulfing an abandoned rail road trestle.

The Kiowa County Sheriff's office said Sheriff Casey Sheridan, who also is a volunteer firefighter, took the picture of the trestle glowing red with flames Wednesday morning near Haswell, Colorado.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was quickly contained.

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1:45 p.m.

Two residences and 11 outbuildings have burned in a wildfire 40 miles southeast of San Diego near the Mexican border.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection also says 1,000 structures are threatened Wednesday.

The fire has burned more than 10 square miles and is being fought by 1,600 firefighters and nearly two dozen helicopters and air tankers.

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1 p.m.

Authorities say a shift in the wind turned a wildfire burning slowly in a heavily wooded area on the Colorado-Wyoming border into a fast-moving threat.

Routt National Forest spokesman Aaron Voos says the blaze grew to about 5 square miles from about 1 square mile Tuesday. Thunderstorms expected this weekend could make the fire worse because they often bring gusty winds and only a smattering of flame-stifling rain.

Voos says the number of firefighters is expected to grow from 120 to about 200 on Wednesday. But he says getting more help is difficult because of other fires across the West.

Trees killed by a beetle infestation were helping fuel the blaze 140 miles north of Denver and 2 miles from Wyoming.

Campers and those staying in cabins were told to evacuate. Voos says no more than 100 people fled the area, which isn't heavily populated.

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9:40 a.m.

Firefighters say they expect to keep a wildfire from moving any closer to a rural eastern Arizona town.

Officials said Wednesday that the edge of the blaze threatening the community of Cedar Creek made no significant movement in the last 24 hours thanks to sparse vegetation.

The fire has burned some 67 square miles and is about 2 ½ miles north of Cedar Creek. It's partially contained.

Crews are focusing on expanding fire lines and conducting burnout operations.

Residents have been told to prepare to evacuate from Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside and the immediate surrounding areas.

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency Tuesday to free up state dollars to battle the fire.

It began June 15 and its cause remains under investigation.

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9:20 a.m.

Calm conditions and moist air are helping firefighters make progress against two fires in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, but a change is coming.

Incident commander Mike Wakoski says stronger winds are coming Wednesday afternoon and evening, and they could push the flames.

Hundreds of homes are evacuated in foothill cities below the fire, and officials say the threat remains.

High heat that blanketed Southern California at the start of the week has retreated eastward, allowing moist ocean air to push well into the Los Angeles basin during the morning.

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9 a.m.

Firefighters are bringing in more help after a forest fire near the Colorado-Wyoming line exploded in size and forced campers to evacuate.

Fire spokesman Chris Barth said the blaze grew to about 5 square miles overnight from about 1 square mile Tuesday. He says additional personnel are expected to arrive Wednesday to battle the fire that's 140 miles north of Denver and 2 miles from Wyoming.

The blaze was reported late Sunday in a heavily forested area that includes the Routt National Forest and has no permanent residents. Trees killed by a beetle infestation were helping fuel the fire, whose cause is under investigation.

Campers and those staying in cabins were told to evacuate Tuesday evening because of heavy smoke, high winds and spreading fire. It wasn't clear how many people fled.

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8:35 a.m.

Weather is helping crews battling two wildfires outside Los Angeles and another near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Angeles National Forest spokesman Nathan Judy says winds are calm Wednesday morning in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, where plumes of smoke are rising from a pair of blazes.

Together, the fires have burned more than 7 square miles and are mostly uncontained. Hundreds of homes remain evacuated in foothill communities.

Another wildfire about 40 miles east of San Diego has grown to just over 10 square miles and is partially contained. Hundreds of homes have been evacuated.

Capt. Kendal Bortisser of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says temperatures have dropped, humidity has risen and cloud cover is helping. But he says firefighters still must deal with rough terrain and vegetation that hasn't burned in decades.

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8 a.m.

More evacuees are expected to return home as firefighters inch closer to snuffing out a massive wildfire in central New Mexico.

Authorities said Wednesday that the blaze in the mountains south of Albuquerque is more than halfway contained. It has destroyed at least two dozen homes and burned nearly 28 square miles.

Fire officials say crews constructed more fire lines along two sides of the blaze. Helicopters also have dropped more than 2,100 gallons of water close to where there are structures.

The human-caused fire ignited June 14, racing across miles of tinder-dry forest. Several villages that line the eastern side of the Manzano Mountains had to be evacuated.

The blaze also led Gov. Susana Martinez to declare a state of emergency.

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7:15 a.m.

Moisture has moved in along much of the Southern California coast, and most mandatory evacuation areas near a wildfire in Santa Barbara County have been lifted.

Fog arrived overnight on the rugged coast west of Santa Barbara, where a fire of more than 12 square miles is nearly entirely contained Wednesday morning.

As planned, mandatory evacuation orders for many areas were reduced to warnings at 5 a.m., allowing residents to return. All orders are expected to be lifted by the weekend.

Firefighting resources are being redirected to two fires in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles and to a blaze east of San Diego near the Mexico border.