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Wildfires blaze in 12 states, forcing evacuations, killing 2

By the CNN Wire Staff
Smoke billows from the Monument Fire near Sierra Vista, Arizona, on Sunday.
Smoke billows from the Monument Fire near Sierra Vista, Arizona, on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Acreage burned this year is three times the 10-year average, U.S. agency says
  • A fast-moving Texas wildfire forces the evacuation of 1,800 homes and businesses
  • Two firefighters die in a wildfire in Florida
  • Nationally, more than 10,000 firefighters are battling wildfires

Read more about the fires from CNN affiliates WJXT and KHOU. Are you there? Share your photos, videos and stories, but please stay safe.

(CNN) -- Wildfires burning across some 1.4 million acres in 12 states have forced the evacuation of 1,800 homes and businesses in one Texas county and claimed the lives of two firefighters in Florida, authorities said Tuesday.

The two Florida Division of Forestry firefighters died Monday while fighting a wildfire in north-central Florida that had been declared contained but suddenly burst out of control, Amanda Bevis, a division spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

"They were both in tractors, and the fire literally just caught up with them," she said.

The firefighters were identified as Josh Burch, 31, and Brett Fulton, 52. Both were rangers with the forestry division working the Blue Ribbon Fire in Hamilton County.

"The wildfires have ravaged our state, burning more than 200,000 acres, and now, they have taken the lives of two of our very own men," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a statement.

Texas fires force evacuations
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RELATED TOPICS
  • Wildfires
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Two other firefighters were injured trying to rescue their colleagues, Bevis said. They were treated and released Monday and will make full recoveries, she said.

In Texas, a fast-moving fire near Grimes County destroyed at least 26 homes as it burned across more than 4,000 acres.

The fire was caused by homeowners grilling near Stoneham, Texas, CNN affiliate KHOU-TV reported.

Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell said officials have identified a person of interest who is believed to have built the barbecue pit that started the fire, but as of now authorities do not believe there was any intent of arson.

The speed of the fire forced evacuations of whole subdivisions throughout the area.

Jerome Seeberger, who owns 40 acres of land in Grimes County, said there's just one word to describe the scene.

"Apocalypse," he told KHOU against a backdrop of charred trees. "I've never seen anything like this. Such a beautiful forest two days ago and now look at it."

The fires in Florida and Texas were just two of 53 large uncontained wildfires burning in 11 U.S. states, from Alaska to Florida, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. All told, the fires have burned 2,166 square miles -- nearly the size of Delaware.

About 10,400 firefighters are involved in efforts to contain the fires, with more than 7,000 of them in Arizona and New Mexico, where fires have burned 853,518 acres, according to the center.

The largest of the fires continues to be the Wallow Fire in east central Arizona and west central New Mexico. That fire has burned 527,774 acres so far, the fire's incident command team announced Tuesday, and is about 56% contained.

While residents of Greer, Arizona, are being allowed to return home, evacuation orders remain in effect in other parts of Arizona and in Luna, New Mexico. Residents in parts of Apache County, Arizona, also have been told to be prepared to evacuate should the need arise.

Power has been fully restored in Alpine and Nutrioso, Arizona, but remains out in areas north of Blue River, fire officials said.

In North Carolina, Forest Service officials said they are closely monitoring a fire in Pender County, which has burned more than 4,000 acres.

Though evacuations have not been ordered, residents of Pender County said they are worried. Diane Kuzina's voice broke as she described the fire's path. Kuzina owns land near the Pender County line.

"I don't want to lose my home," she said. "It's just scary."

Critical fire weather was forecast Tuesday for parts of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, with a combination of low humidity and high winds in many locations raising the threat from wildfires.

The weather service also warned that scattered storms forecast in southeast Texas could bring welcome rain but also lightning that could spark new fires.

The number of wildfires so far this year is below the 10-year average for the United States, according to the U.S. Forest Service. But the number of acres burned is three times that 10-year average, according to the agency.

While some state and local authorities have reported stretched resources from the widespread fires, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told Congress last week that there's plenty of capacity to continue fighting fires.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior have about 16,000 trained firefighters available nationwide, Tidwell said.

The agency also has left-over funds from previous years to pay higher-than-usual firefighting costs.

CNN's Craig Bell contributed to this report.

 
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