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Wildfires continue to rage in Arizona

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Arizona wildfire still uncontained
  • NEW: Officials have spent some $3 million so far, says Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer
  • Largest fire grows to 140,000 acres
  • Nearly 2,500 people evacuated as fire rages
  • People evacuated in several neighborhoods

(CNN) -- One of the largest wildfires in Arizona history threatened mountain retreats and spread ash and smoke as far away as Albuquerque, New Mexico, more than 200 miles away, officials said Saturday.

Across the state, blazes have burned more than 250,000 acres.

More than 1,000 personnel were battling a large wildfire near Alpine in the east-central part of the state. The fire, of undetermined origin, had burned 140,000 acres by Saturday and prompted the evacuation of nearly 2,500 people.

It was completely uncontained Saturday afternoon.

"The fire is burning pretty fast and it's pretty large," said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who visited the area Saturday. "It's a big fire and we hope that we get more encouraging news in the morning."

She said officials have so far spent some $3 million on efforts to put out the blaze and that she would consider asking the state or federal governments for help if the situation gets worse.

The fire, which began last weekend, has destroyed several log outbuildings and remained a large threat to vacation homes and other properties in Alpine and Nutrioso, said Sgt. Richard Guinn of the Apache County Sheriff's Office. Residents in those communities and a subdivision were evacuated.

"It looks like fog in St. John's right now," Guinn said.

Apache National Forest in Arizona was closed to all public entry.

The area is popular for outdoor activities, which include elk hunting, fly fishing and skiing in the winter.

"With school out we have a lot of campers," but campgrounds in the national forest were closed, Guinn said.

Eric Neitzel with the Show Low Fire Department told CNN Phoenix affiliate KNXV that the fire is "stubborn."

The town of Greer was given a pre-evacuation notice Friday night, Guinn said.

As a precaution, because of the smoke and ash, a local hospital moved its patients, although the emergency room remained open, Guinn said.

Winds were expected to subside somewhat Saturday, but firefighting conditions could be tougher Sunday, said Guinn.

Crews were throwing an arsenal of equipment against the wildfire, including nine helicopters, four air attack planes and nearly 80 ground vehicles.

Joyce Benjamin said the smoky skies caused her daughter River's asthma to flare up.

"She's having trouble breathing," Benjamin said.

Albuquerque city officials, northeast of the blaze, advised residents to avoid outdoor activity and close windows and doors when heavy smoke is visible or can be smelled. The smoke alert was issued through Monday morning. Light ash has been reported in several areas of the city, according to CNN affiliate KOAT.

A second fire in southeast Arizona had burned more than 90,000 acres but was 50% contained, fire officials reported Saturday. The cause was under investigation.

A mandatory evacuation order continued for the communities of Paradise, East Whitetail Canyon and the surrounding communities, according to KNXV.

Chiricahua National Monument is temporarily closed.

CNN's Phil Gast contributed to this report.