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Charred Arizona Town Like a Moonscape

June 22, 2003|From Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. — Firefighters moved through the charred streets of a mountaintop resort Friday to protect what was left of a community decimated by a raging wildfire that reduced 250 homes to smoking rubble.

Heavy smoke hid the Summerhaven hamlet from observers flying overhead, but parted occasionally to reveal a moonscape of blackened trees stripped of their branches. A cul-de-sac with homes burned to their foundations was visible.

A top fire official said Friday that firefighters knew when they saw the flames that they had little chance of stopping the blaze. Winds up to 60 mph drove the fire through dry pine country and up the streets of Summerhaven in about an hour Thursday.

"By the time this thing ignited, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion this thing was going to go where it wanted to go," said Larry Humphrey, commander of the fire team battling the blaze on Mt. Lemmon.

Fire crews are bracing for more destruction in the Summerhaven hamlet with forecasts calling for strong winds and dry conditions for the next several days. As many as 1,000 firefighters are expected to be battling the fire within a few days.

Humphrey said he expects the fire, which grew from an estimated 465 acres Thursday to about 3,200 acres early Friday, to eventually burn tens of thousands of acres because there is no good place to stop it.

Crews were clearing vegetation from around a nearby observatory Friday and were prepared to burn around the area if the fire approached.

Firefighters had tried to protect the homes along a trail about a mile away, but had to pull back when the intense blaze leaped the path. "The problem is this is extremely difficult country with extremely heavy fuels, and without rain on this and with the way the winds and humidity are, they never stood a chance," Humphrey said.

The cause was under investigation.

The blaze consumed pine trees ravaged by years of drought and an infestation of tree-killing bark beetles. It is one of several wildfires in Arizona, where fire officials are braced for another busy year after seeing 630,000 acres burned in 2002.

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