The Arizona wildfires has prompted the El Paso Electric Co based in Texas to issue warnings of possible power interruptions for its customers in southern New Mexico and West Texas. The company currently uses two high voltage lines to bring electricity from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station located west of Phoenix to both New Mexico and west Texas. The loss of those power lines would cut off about 40 percent of the utility’s supply, possibly triggering rolling blackouts for its existing 372,000 customers.
There was also a glimmer of hope as no new evacuation orders were given on Thursday. Over 1,000 new firefighters have entered the battle of the Wallow Fire, which has burned 336,000 acres and cut through the popular mountain retreat of Greer. There were 2,000 firefighters on Wednesday, but that raised to over 3,000 on Thursday. Suzanne Flory, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman anticipated weather to be helpful on Thursday, with lower winds and temperatures in addition to higher humidity in the region. The fire was believed to have been started May 29 by careless campers leaving an unattended campfire.
On Tuesday, it became the second largest in Arizona history behind the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire, also in eastern Arizona, which scorched more than 732 square miles before being extinguished. The Wallow Fire is now 607 square miles, and still has potential for growth, but today’s weather is going to be much more conducive to firefighting, according to Flory. In the mean time, firefighting crews were hopeful that they could slow down the spread of the fire Thursday if weather predictions were to hold true. After days of driving winds, no high-wind warning issued. Other officials spoke guardedly late Wednesday as they faced the 12th day of the fire fight. Jim Whittington, a fire information officer on the scene stated the following, “Don’t get complacent just because we don’t have a red flag warning. Ten to 15 mph winds are good winds to drive fire, especially through grass, so we’re going to have to be very careful.”
Residents remaining in Springerville and the neighboring community of Eagar were evacuated as a spot fire popped up on the northwestern edge of the larger blaze which caused officials to worry about the prospect of the fire hooking around a bulldozer line and a burned-out area and racing toward the town. Apache County sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers went house-to-house in Springerville looking for any remaining residents. At Reed’s Lodge, which is located along Springerville’s main street Wednesday, Daric Knight made sure no embers landed on his wood shingles. Knight’s family has owned the lodge for decades. “I’ve seen lots of fires, but nothing like this,” he said. About 7,000 people live in Springerville, Eagar and surrounding areas, although many had left before the sheriff ordered the full evacuation. On Wednesday night, crews set backfires in a bid to draw the flames away from threatened homes, and bulldozers continued work on a 10-mile-long buffer zone south of Eager between the leading edge of the blaze and populated areas.
Firefighters were planning to assess the area at daybreak, particularly around the mountain resort community of Greer, and would know then whether any additional structures had been burned overnight. Firefighters have spent the last two days attempting to create a fire line where they could properly defend the towns. They used bulldozers to scrape off vegetation and hand crews to remove other fuels. The line hasn’t been breached at this point, but officials continue to worry about spot fires. A 747 super tanker was expected to arrive on Thursday to help in fighting the Arizona wildfires.
Officials in Catron County, N.M., told the residents of Luna, New Mexico to prepare for evacuation if winds push the Arizona wildfires blaze into western New Mexico. Whittington told us on Wednesday that it was a rough day in the Greer area when flames raced down the canyon and forced firefighters to change their defensive positions. Whittington stated on Wednesday, “it was pretty hairy. The firefighters did a good job.” He went on to add about the future of the fire, “We have a fire fight on our hands. It’s going to be tough, and we’re going to be here a while,” Whittington said.
With a wildfire as large as this being driven by gusty, unpredictable winds, putting the fire out amounts to a mammoth task. Currently, all the fire managers can do is try to steer it away from homes and cabins by using natural terrain, fire lines, burning out combustible material first and trying to put out spot fires sparked by embers blowing in front of the main fire front.
Adding to the Arizona wildfires are another major wildfire that was burning in southeastern Arizona, threatening two communities. That wildfire is a 181-square-mile blaze and has torched 14 structures, including three summer cabins since it started on May 8. Fire officials for that fire report that the 116,000-acre blaze is 40 percent contained at this time.
More than 200 miles of highways are closed due to several major wildfires currently burning throughout the state. A blaze in northern Arizona, near the mountain city of Flagstaff, forced the evacuations of about 50 homes on Wednesday.
In Colorado, at least five wildfires threatened sparsely populated areas in the southern part of the state. Officials say a subdivision in Teller County has been evacuated.
Video of Fire Information Officer:
The Arizona wildfires still threaten the power lines and threaten rolling blackouts for New Mexico and West Texas at this time.