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Arizona forest fire expands to 300 square miles

Several mountain communities in the eastern part of the state have been evacuated, and haze from the wildfire has traveled as far east as Iowa.

June 07, 2011
  • Cattle graze in a field as smoke from the Wallow wildfire settles in the sky near Eagar, Ariz.
Cattle graze in a field as smoke from the Wallow wildfire settles in the sky… (Joshua Lott / Reuters )

Springerville, Ariz — . — An enormous wildfire that forced the evacuation of several mountain communities in eastern Arizona has grown to more than 300 square miles, sending smoke and haze across five states and as far east as Iowa, authorities said.

Officials said the blaze has burned nearly 193,000 acres since it started more than a week ago near the White Mountain town of Alpine. Authorities believe an abandoned campfire may have sparked the blaze.

The flames have destroyed five buildings but no serious injuries have been reported.

About 2,500 firefighters, including many from several western states and as far away as New York, are working to contain the wildfires, fire information officer Peter Frenzen said.

A ridge of high pressure was carrying haze from the fire to central Iowa, said Kyle Fredin, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Denver. Smoke was visible in New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.

In Arizona, the fire and poor visibility forced the closure of several roads, including about a two-mile stretch of Highway 180 between Alpine and the New Mexico line, Frenzen said.

Alpine has been under mandatory evacuation orders since Thursday night, along with the community of Nutrioso and several lodges and camps in the scenic high country. Greer and nearby Sunrise were ordered to leave Monday afternoon, and the 7,000 residents of Eager and Springerville were warned to be ready to flee.

Firefighters have, so far, kept the flames out of Alpine and Nutrioso. Residents of the New Mexico town of Luna, about 15 miles east of Alpine, were warned Monday to be prepared to evacuate if the fire closes in.

The fire is the state's third-largest, behind a 2002 blaze that blackened more than 732 square miles and one in 2005 that burned about 387 square miles in the Phoenix suburb of Cave Creek.

The state also is battling another major wildfire, its fifth-largest, that is threatening two communities in southeastern Arizona.

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