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Arizona fire now bigger than Los Angeles

Sunset west of Show Low was intensified by the smoke and flames of the Rodeo-Chediski fire.
Sunset west of Show Low was intensified by the smoke and flames of the Rodeo-Chediski fire.  


SHOW LOW, Arizona (CNN) -- Firefighters had contained 5 percent of the monster Chediski-Rodeo fire Wednesday, but the blaze was still a very real threat to the evacuated town of Show Low less than a half-mile from the fire's frontline, fire officials said.

The 410,000 acre inferno -- larger than the city of Los Angeles -- was at the mercy of unpredictable weather, said fire information officer Jim Paxon.

"It's going to be a long time," he said, "several days before we get to where we have the upper hand on this fire."

A 43,000-acre fireline west of Show Low was holding the flames at bay Wednesday, but storms moving into the area could "undo everything that we did," said Keith Brandemihl, one of thousands of firefighters on the scene.

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"We were very optimistic this morning until we heard about the lightning strikes," he said. "It's a sleeping giant out there. It's minute by minute, touch and go."

Paxon said the containment was in the Clay Springs-Pinedale-Linden area, where the fire began just more than a week ago.

"We not only have a line there that's holding, but we're going in ... and starting to extinguish burning materials," he said.

"We're still in reactive mode, especially here in Show Low. But all around we're going to be getting more containment," Paxon said, sounding an optimistic note. "Our scoreboard's going to even up eventually, and we'll be on the positive side."

Overnight Tuesday, wind kicked up at Show Low High School, the firefighters' command base, and showered the area with a steady rain of ash.

The key, officials said, may be a fireline in Cottonwood Canyon. If it fails to keep the fire from crossing U.S. 60, they said, Show Low is at much great risk of burning.

Most of Show Low's 7,700 residents evacuated over the weekend. So far, the blaze has destroyed at least 375 homes and 16 businesses as it worked its way through the bone-dry timber of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The fire forced the evacuation of 30,000 people from several towns and prompted President Bush to declare the area a federal disaster.

Bush tours devastated area

Bush met with firefighters and some of the people displaced by the blaze Tuesday. Before arriving, the president declared east-central Arizona a federal disaster area.

"A lot of people in our country are pulling for you," Bush told evacuees in Eagar, east of Show Low. "They understand that a lot of you are living in tents when you'd rather be in your own bed. They cry for you, and they hurt with you.

"Hang in there, brave and great people."

The federal disaster designation will make money available in Apache and Navajo counties and to the Fort Apache Indian Reservation for disaster housing, grants, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs for residents and business owners, a White House statement said.

President Bush looks out of the window of Air Force One during his aerial tour on Tuesday of the Arizona fires.
President Bush looks out of the window of Air Force One during his aerial tour on Tuesday of the Arizona fires.  

Funds also will be available to governments to restore infrastructure and mitigate future fire hazards, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has set aside $20 million to help defray the estimated $1 million per day firefighting costs.

More than 2,800 firefighters are battling the 50-mile wide blaze that has blackened more than 580 square miles since it began June 18.

Such a massive burn will have a lasting economic effect on the area, officials said, including the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, where the Apache tribe operates a timber mill. Paxon said the Apaches had likely lost as much as 700 million board feet of saw timber and fuel wood.

"It's going to be tough on this area for a while," he said.



 
 
 
 






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