Fire crew members sharpen their tools as they prepare for a back burn operation in Eagar, Ariz., on Wednesday. (Associated Press)
Fire crew members sharpen their tools as they prepare for a back burn operation in Eagar, Ariz., on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Arizona residents ordered out as fire nears power lines

SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. – A raging forest fire in eastern Arizona that already forced thousands from their homes headed Wednesday for a pair of transmission lines that supply electricity to hundreds of thousands of people as far east as Texas.

The 607-square-mile blaze is expected to reach the power lines as early as Friday. If the lines are damaged, parts of New Mexico and Texas could face rolling blackouts.

Meanwhile, an Arizona sheriff ordered remaining residents of two towns in the path of the wildfire to evacuate by Wednesday evening. About 7,000 people live in Springerville and Eagar and surrounding areas.

The blaze has blackened about 389,000 acres and destroyed 11 buildings, primarily in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. No serious injuries have been reported.

Fire spokesman Jim Whittington said at a briefing Wednesday night that the fire grew on the northwestern side due to driving afternoon winds, but an updated acreage figure wouldn’t be available until this morning.

Firefighters planned to assess the area at daybreak and would know then whether any additional structures had burned, Whittington said.

He said a dozer line on the northern end of the fire held Wednesday and crews planned to continue working on it today, when winds weren’t expected to be as strong as the past few days.

A 747 super tanker also was expected to arrive today to help with air support on the flames, Whittington said.

Firefighters had spent the past two days trying to create a line where they could defend the towns. They used bulldozers to scrape off vegetation and hand crews to remove other fuels. The line hasn’t been breached, but a spot fire did find an opening, Whittington said.

“It’s not like the fire is in Springerville and Eagar,” he said. “It’s that potential for it to hook around the dozer line and (the) burnout we did and (then) move northeast into town” that prompted the evacuation.


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