Wallow Wildfire Set to Cross State Line Into New Mexico

Firefighters somewhat stifled the blaze Thursday as the fire moved toward N.M.

ByABC News
June 10, 2011, 3:36 AM

June 10, 2011— -- More than 3,000 firefighters managed to contain a small slice of the massive Wallow fire in eastern Arizona, which today threatened to cross the border into New Mexico.

Workers are using a DC-10 tanker air carrier from the sky and firebreaks on the ground to try to stop the blaze before it reaches the tiny town of Luna, N.M., seven miles from the Arizona border. Authorities in Catron County have evacuated about 100 homes near the border, and 200 others are on notice to leave the area at any time, according to Ian Fletcher, the county's undersheriff.

Incident Cmdr. Joe Reinarz said Thursday that for the first time since the fire sparked on May 29, firefighters could keep parts of it contained. As of Thursday, the fire had scorched more than 386,000 acres, with 5 percent containment, according to the Associated Press.

"Saturday we can possibly look at getting the evacuees in Eagar, Springerville and Southfork back in their homes if the conditions are right over the next day and a half, two days," Reinarz said.

They are trying to avoid a repeat of the blaze that scorched Greer, Ariz., Wednesday. New numbers released overnight revealed that 22 buildings -- many of them family homes -- were destroyed in that town, and five others were damaged.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., fears a summer home he owns in the town may have been among the homes destroyed. Like their senator, thousands of residents are still in the dark, desperate to learn anything about what has happened to their houses since they were evacuated.

"We don't know how long we will be here. We don't know if our home has burned to the ground. Nobody will give us answers," Christie Boden, an Arizona fire evacuee, told ABC News.

Still in the fire's path are Paso Electric's high-voltage transmission lines, which supply electricity for hundreds of thousands of people. If these lines go, it may mean blackouts for many parts of the region.

Alex Hoon, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told ABC News that this fire is actually creating its own weather, forming a pyrocumulus cloud, or fire cloud, that is dynamically similar to a firestorm.

"The fire is so intense, has so much heat that it actually forms its own thunderstorm at the top of the smoke plume," Hoon said.

These storms spur the fire on by creating winds that start new fires by hurling burning debris as far as five miles through the air.

Near the New Mexico-Arizona state line, in the two small towns of Springerville and Eagar, which have a combined population of approximately 8,000 residents, were ordered out Wednesday.

Winds in the region should continue to be mild throughout today, but will then become strong again.

So far, 603 square miles of land in eastern Arizona have been burned.

The blaze that has blackened land half the size of Rhode Island was sparked by what authorities believe was an unattended campfire, according to the Associated Press.