TUCSON, Ariz. – One of the largest wildfires in Arizona's history grew even bigger Friday as it cast an orange glow over people fleeing their mountain homes and sent smoke across skies 200 miles away. Dozens of other fires blazed in several Western states.
After the so-called Wallow Fire expanded by 15,000 acres Friday, authorities warned residents of the town of Greer to be ready to evacuate if necessary.
The Apache County Sheriff's Department issued the notice to Greer, but there was no word on when or if the residents would have to leave. Greer has less than 200 permanent residents but the town and area attract many vacationers.
Scores of people in a few White Mountain towns in the area were ordered to evacuate over the past two days.
Fire incident commander John Philbin told The Associated Press that the fire pushed northward and expanded by 15,000 acres to 120,600 acres, or 187 square miles.
That made the blaze the state's third largest ever. The biggest, the Rodeo-Chediski, burned 469,000 acres in 2002 and the Cave Creek complex fire burned 248,000 acres in 2005. The Wallow fire just surpassed the Willow fire, which burned 120,000 acres in 2004.
The U.S. Forest Service said that four summer rental cabins burned Friday as the blaze continued to consume dead and dry trees and brush in the White Mountains near the New Mexico border.
Meanwhile, the Horseshoe Two fire burning in southern Arizona has become the fifth-largest wildfire in state history at 86,000 acres.
"That's really significant," said Jim Payne, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman. "This does not foretell well for the future. Here we are with literally another five to six weeks of fire season."
Residents in the scenic mountain community of Alpine were ordered Thursday night to pack up and leave as the Wallow fire neared. A shelter was set up at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside. There was no exact figure on the number of evacuees.
Smoke from the Alpine fire was carrying all the way to Albuquerque, N.M., more than 200 miles to the northeast.
The evacuation order for Paradise and East Whitetail Canyon in southeastern Arizona was issued Thursday night as strong winds pushed the Horseshoe Two fire toward the towns, the Cochise County sheriff's office said.
The nearby Chiricahua National Monument was closed as a precaution.
The Horseshoe Two fire has been burning for days and has charred about 135 square miles of brush and timber. Officials said it had been 75 percent contained until the winds picked up, dropping containment down to 50 percent.
Beaver Creek and the other two evacuated communities are small. Paradise has about a dozen occupied homes and many other vacation residences, Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County sheriff's office, told the AP. East Whitetail Canyon has about a dozen homes.
The U.S. Forest Service said about 800 firefighters were battling the blaze, and many are involved in protecting structures in the evacuated communities.
Meanwhile, another wildfire burning in northern Arizona has burned about 100 acres near Camp Navajo, an Army National Guard Base west of Flagstaff.
Nearby Interstate 40 remains open, but fire officials cautioned the highway could be closed because of the smoke.
Smaller fires were burning Friday near Silver City, N.M., and in Colorado, where flames came within 50 yards of some homes but no structures were damaged.
Another wildfire was burning about 50 miles east of Los Angeles in the Cleveland National Forest. And in Alaska, teams continued to battle a wildfire that threatened cabins 15 miles northwest of Fairbanks while dozens of other blazes burned in the dry Alaska interior.
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