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Arizona, New Mexico residents return to see wildfires' impact

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Fighting Arizona's wildfire from above
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 10,000 firefighters battle wildfires in 12 states
  • 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
  • Arizona's Wallow fire has burned 527,774 acres

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

(CNN) -- More Arizona and New Mexico residents Wednesday returned to their homes, in some cases to find them intact, in other cases to sift through debris left by a massive wildfire.

The Wallow fire in east central Arizona is one of 58 large wildfires burning in the United States, from Alaska to Florida, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. All told, the fires have burned 2,166 square miles or 1.4 million acres -- nearly the size of Delaware.

The largest of the fires continues to be Arizona's Wallow fire, which has burned 529,825 acres so far, the fire's incident command team announced Wednesday. Officials said it is about 58% contained.

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

Wildfires burn in North Carolina
RELATED TOPICS
  • Wildfires

CNN iReporter Andrew Pielage, a hotel manager in suburban Phoenix, took photos of burned homes in Greer.

"As a photographer, I'm here to document what's happening," Pielage said. "Just because the flames are out doesn't mean the fire is done with. I really feel for the people of Greer and their loss."

Pielage said he was impressed by the perseverance of firefighters and those who live in the community.

"The photos document both the relentless work the firefighters did to save the homes of Greer as well as, tragically, the ones they could not," he said.

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. They were allowed home beginning Monday.

A voluntary evacuation order was issued Wednesday for Pender County, North Carolina, residents affected by a fire. More than 18,000 acres have burned in the Holly Shelter Game Land area northeast of Wilmington, officials said.

No homes had been damaged.

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 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 in Grimes County, said there is just one word to describe the scene.

"Apocalypse," he told KHOU as he stood in front of 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 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.

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.

CNN's Craig Bell contributed to this report.

 
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