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Arizona fire creeps toward town

Show Low
A massive plume of smoke rises from the wildfire menacing Show Low.  

SHOW LOW, Arizona (CNN) -- A monstrous wildfire that has burned more than 330,000 acres crept toward the largely abandoned town of Show Low Monday and charred more than 100 homes in its path.

President Bush plans to stop in Arizona on his way Tuesday to the G-8 summit in Canada to get an aerial tour of the Rodeo-Chediski fire that has forced the evacuation of about 30,000 residents along eastern Arizona's Mogollon Rim.

He will be briefed by emergency and rescue teams and will visit with families and firefighters. (Full story)

The Rodeo and Chediski fires came together Sunday and had formed a single blaze by Monday. As of late in the day, fire officials said the main fire -- at least 50 miles wide -- was about one mile from the western edge of Show Low, a town of about 8,000 residents in east-central Arizona.

One official said fire crews were doing their best to "keep it at bay," but the fire is "very, very active in that area."

"It's very dark and gloomy out there. You can see the smoke billowing," the official said.

Firefighters and support personnel dug a six-mile-long fire line at Cottonwood Canyon late Sunday to keep the fire out of Show Low, but the fire looped around the line.

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"We are still concerned for Show Low, because we're not really sure what to expect," said Nancy Shoemaker, a fire information spokeswoman.

Sticking it out

Nearly all of Show Low's residents evacuated over the weekend. People who left their homes were asked to tie a white cloth outside to notify authorities they had gone.

Stephanie Irwin, who was evacuated from her area home of 19 years with her family, expressed frustration with events.

"We feel very helpless, but there's nothing we can do. It's completely out of our control. We're saying lots of prayers," Irwin said.

Bob Genet -- who owns an auto dealership -- and his son Rustin were staying put.

"This is the command center, and they've assured the media and everybody around here that this is a safe zone. ... This area wouldn't burn," Bob Genet said. "I've sent my wife out to shelter, to safety, and me and Russ have made the decision that we're going to stay."

His son added, "We're at our home. We know our home's safe, and so we feel comfortable there."

But Rustin said they were prepared to make a quick exit. "Our truck's packed up with everything we feel that we need," he said. "All our most important stuff."

Nancy Lull, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said the fire was centered around two state highways -- 277 to the north near Snowflake and 260 to the south, an area north of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

Lull said fire crews were removing brush, woodpiles and other potential fuel from around houses in Show Low. Air tankers continued to dump flame retardant on fires, and helicopters were dropping as much as 1,200 gallons of water at a time.

A fourth Type 1 incident management team -- a national team of firefighters with special expertise -- was arriving to help fight the fire. Such teams are called in when there is a widespread threat to safety or property.

Shoemaker said the neighboring towns of Heber and Overgaard were especially hard hit. On Monday alone, the two towns lost a total of 100 homes, bringing the number of structures lost there to 229.

The Rodeo fire destroyed 115 structures in the communities of Cheney Ranch, Wildwood Acres, Aripine, Linden and Timberland Acres, Lull said.

Archaeological sites threatened

Linda Martin, spokeswoman for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest that surrounds Show Low and other affected towns, said about half the fire was on Apache tribal property and half on national forestland.

Martin said the area burned between Heber and Show Low is filled with archaeological sites -- including rock etchings and pueblo structures -- dating back at least 1,000 years, but she said the extent of damage would not be known until the fire is out.

The area also has the largest stand of ponderosa pines in the nation.

The fire claims a house near Show Low late Sunday.
The fire claims a house near Show Low late Sunday.  

Besides Show Low, the communities of Pinedale, Clay Springs, Linden, Heber, Overgaard, Pinetop, Lakeside, Hon Dah, Forest Lake and Wagon Wheel were evacuated, Lull said.

The Red Cross has set up four shelters in the area.

Officials said the cause of the Rodeo blaze was under investigation. They said the Chediski fire was started by an injured hiker who was trying to catch the attention of a helicopter overhead.

Over the weekend, Arizona Gov. Jane Hull said the fire should be a wake-up call to environmentalists and governments to change the way they manage the nation's forests.

"Mother Nature right now is saying to Arizona and saying to the West and hopefully to Congress that we have got to clean up these forests," Hull said. "Nature did it on a regular basis before people came out here. ... Clean forests are the way we've got to go." (Full story)




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