SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. – Stiff winds whipped up a gigantic blaze in the mountains of eastern Arizona on Monday, forcing the evacuation of a third resort town and casting a smoky haze over states as far away as Iowa.
Winds of about 30 mph, with gusts above 60 mph, blew heavy smoke from the fire into Greer, a picturesque town where most of the 200 full-time residents had already fled. Everyone still there and in the nearby area known as Sunrise were ordered to leave Monday afternoon.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Allan Johnson, owner of the 101-year-old Molly Butler Lodge in Greer, the oldest in the state, said of the fire barreling down on the resort town. He was pessimistic about the chances of saving the lodge and the hundreds of vacation homes in the area.
Late Monday, a huge pall of black smoke loomed over the twin towns of Eager and Springerville, home to about 7,000 people, and sheriff’s officials told residents there to prepare to leave.
The winds and expected lightning are making matters worse in an area dotted with cabins and campgrounds that have long provided a cool summer getaway from the oppressive heat of the nearby desert.
The fire was projected to have grown to nearly 365 square miles, officials said Monday, based on overnight mapping flights that have not yet been verified. Officials believe an abandoned campfire may have sparked the blaze more than a week ago.
No serious injuries have been reported.