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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Arizona Wildfire Nearly Impossible to Stop

Aired June 20, 2003 - 20:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: They never had a chance at stopping the flames. That is what one official had to say about the crews that fought a futile effort to turn back the massive Aspen wildfire in Arizona before the firefighters retreated to safety. CNN's Dan Lothian is in Tucson with the latest.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thick smoke hangs in the air as the Aspen fire rages out of control. More than 600 firefighters are working in dangerous difficult terrain. Dry old growth timber, heat, flames and high winds.

GERRY ENGLE, NATIONAL FOREST SERVICE: The terrain is very steep. There is not very many places where we can safely put firefighters into the area where the fire is occurring. And then the wind is really bad. We had extreme winds yesterday. And we're predicted to have extreme winds for the next three or four days.

LOTHIAN: Hardest hit, the town of Summerhaven. At least half of the 500 homes here have been destroyed. Everyone has been evacuated including young children spending time at two nearby summer camps. Fire crews have managed to save at least 60 homes, but many more are still threatened.

ENGLE: It is going to be a very long fire. This fire could burn for another two or three weeks probably until we get rain.

LOTHIAN: The fire started on Tuesday, destroying just a few hundred acres at first, but 60 mile per hour winds fanned the flames. Power lines came down, propane tanks blew up. At times fire crews had to retreat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: We are currently about 25 to 30 miles away from that fire. Behind me you can see some of the smoke. That's the top of Mount Lemmon.

So far officials telling us that about 4,000 acres have burned. They say that it could get much worse. They expect if it continues going the way it is now, it could be tens of thousands of acres.

But some good news, the fire appears to be burning to the north. And the closest structures there ten miles away -- Anderson. COOPER: Dan Lothian, thanks very much for that report.

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