PHOENIX – Fire crews are making major strides in corralling three major wildfires that have been burning in Arizona for weeks, and they expect to have one of the fires fully contained by this weekend.
The 348-square-mile fire that will be the first contained has burned through almost an entire forest atop southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua mountains. The forest supports a huge diversity of plants and animals and is a world-renowned birdwatching area.
The fire was tamed because it basically had burned across the whole mountain range, said Mary Christensen, a spokeswoman for the team that has battled the huge blaze since it broke out May 8. The Chiricahua is one of the state’s so-called “sky island” mountain ranges, which rise from the surrounding desert and grasslands and aren’t connected to other ranges. It is part of the Coronado National Forest.
The fire destroyed nine homes and 14 other buildings as it churned through juniper, oak, pine and other fuels.
It burned very hot in some places, scarring the landscape, but in others scorched only the undergrowth, Christensen said. The prime bird-watching area known as Cave Creek Canyon, which is home to species from as far south as Chile during the breeding season, was not severely damaged.
“For the most part, the fire was kept to a low enough intensity that the canopy is still there,” Christensen said Wednesday. “And we believe that it probably will recover quite easily, and quickly, probably after the rains this season.”
The fire originally was expected to be fully contained by Wednesday evening, but officials said rising temperatures in the forecast created potential for spot fires. Expected full containment was now pushed back to Saturday evening.