Wildfires Scorching Western U.S. - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6/22/2006-Western U.S.

Wildfires Scorching Western U.S.

A helicopter returns Wednesday to the Colorado River to refill its bucket while fighting a wildfire in Colorado. A helicopter returns Wednesday to the Colorado River to refill its bucket while fighting a wildfire in Colorado.
Big Bear Hotshots from California patrol in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Arizona, Wednesday. Big Bear Hotshots from California patrol in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Arizona, Wednesday.
A firefighter pumps water to a sprinkler on the roof of a Dairy Queen Wednesday in Oak Creek Canyon. A firefighter pumps water to a sprinkler on the roof of a Dairy Queen Wednesday in Oak Creek Canyon.
Fed by drought, wildfires continue to move across parts of the the Western United States, devouring acreage in New Mexico, Colorado, California and Arizona.

In central Arizona just south of Flagstaff, firefighters worked late Wednesday in an effort to contain the Brins Fire by Thursday, according to incident commander Paul Broyles.

The fire has consumed 2,456 acres in Oak Creek Canyon, two miles northeast of Sedona. Firefighters were able to prevent the blaze from crossing State Highway 89A, but the containment line on the north side of the canyon was breached, causing "serious concern," Broyles said.

Earlier in the day, 5 percent of the fire was contained. A view from a helicopter 11,000 feet up showed the canyon filled with smoke. In places, a gray haze was pierced by glowing rivulets of fire nestled deep within crevices -- unreachable by tanker planes.

All 500 homes in the canyon have been evacuated and electricity to the area has been cut, officials said. Residents of evacuated subdivisions on the fire's south end were to be allowed to return to their homes "on a limited basis" after 5 p.m., Broyles said.

Unhalted, the Brins Fire could eventually threaten Flagstaff, northern Arizona's largest city some 25 miles away, he said. "The potential is certainly there."

Still, no homes or structures had been lost, he added. "We want to keep it that way."

Broyles said he was "not so optimistic" about the fate of Oak Creek Canyon, where steep terrain is nearly impenetrable.

"We can't get crews in there," he said. He predicted it would remain closed for "several days."

Gov. Janet Napolitano said help is coming from all governmental levels -- municipal, county, state and federal. She said she issued a state declaration of emergency that allowed her to activate a 211 system, whereby residents can get current information by calling that number.

In southern Colorado, a 9,000-acre fire just west of Pueblo led officials to evacuate 280 structures, said Karl Brauneis, a fire information officer for the Rocky Mountain Incident Command Team. Scrub pine burst into flames as the fire advanced, unleashing torrents of thick, white smoke.

But Wednesday's outlook was improved. "Today, we're getting a break in the weather," he said, citing lower temperatures and higher humidity.

The area has been parched by drought, he said. But nature was not the firefighters' only problem: so too was competition from firefighters seeking to draw from a limited pool of resources for other fires.

"That's tough this early in the fire season."

In California's Los Padres National Forest, about five miles west of Cuyama, a 13,425-acre fire was threatening oil fields, natural gas lines and commercial resources.

The Perkins Fire, which had damaged at least five structures, was about 32 percent contained, said Jim Pasinato with the U.S. Forest Service.

A thick layer of smoke covered the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains as helicopters dumped buckets of water on the flames.

Pasinato said the biggest concern is that it will spread over a ridge into the San Rafael Wilderness, which firefighters would have a tough time reaching, since the area contains no roads.

More than 1,000 firefighters are trying to contain the blaze, Pasinato said.

And in Gila National Forest, in southwestern New Mexico, a 24,300-acre fire was zero percent contained 17 miles northeast of Glenwood, according to the National Fire Information Center.

So far this year, wildfires have swept across 3,123,689 acres nationwide, more than four times last year's total for the same time period, the information center said.

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