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Arizona evacuees return home as crews contain wildfire

By the CNN Wire Staff
The Wallow Fire burns south of Greer, Arizona, on June 8.
The Wallow Fire burns south of Greer, Arizona, on June 8.
  • Authorities allow residents of Greer, Arizona, to return to their homes
  • Weather conditions expected to improve Tuesday
  • Winds will lessen, humidity will increase as the week goes on
  • Acres destroyed by wildfires so far in 2011 near U.S. total for 2010

(CNN) -- Nearly two weeks after the biggest wildfire in Arizona history swept through their community and obliterated dozens of homes, barns, sheds and one truck, residents of the tiny town of Greer are back in their homes.

Greer residents were ordered to evacuate on June 6, two days before the Wallow Fire blew through their town of about 200 inhabitants and scorched at least 22 homes and 24 outbuildings. Residents with proper identification were allowed to return Monday.

Greer will be open to non-residents Tuesday, according to the Southwest Incident Management Team, which is leading the effort to battle the blaze.

The lifting of the evacuation order comes as firefighters increasingly gain the upper hand on the blaze, which has torched more than a half-million acres in eastern Arizona. Firefighters announced late Monday that the blaze is now 56% contained.

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Meanwhile, weather conditions are expected to improve with calmer winds and higher humidity levels Tuesday, making it easier for crews to battle other active wildfires burning across the state.

Over the weekend and on Monday, the flames appeared to outpace firefighters' efforts in some areas. That includes the Monument Fire in southern Arizona, which U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has deemed the nation's No. 1 priority.

Winds in the southern part of the state on Tuesday will be blowing between 5 mph and 10 mph, considerably slower than the 30-plus mph winds that hampered firefighting efforts over the weekend, the National Weather Service forecast.

Nationwide, wildfires have burned almost as many acres in the first half of 2011 as were recorded by the National Interagency Fire Center for all of last year.

The agency website reports 3.1 million acres in the United States had been ignited by wildfires as of May 31, compared with 3.2 million burned acres cited in the organization's year-end report in November 2010.

CNN's Ed Payne and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.