VERNON, Ariz. — Hundreds of firefighters dealt with hot, dry conditions Sunday as they tried to build containment lines along portions of a wildfire that has charred nearly 8 square miles in eastern Arizona’s White Mountains and led to evacuations.
But crews got a break from the winds that had whipped the flames in recent days. With the blaze holding steady, firefighters were able to make headway with more burnout operations along the fire’s western flank, said Margaret Hangan, a spokeswoman with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team.
“Right now, it’s not hurting us. But it’s not helping either,” Hangan said of the weather.
Arizona and neighboring New Mexico, where fire danger also remains high, have been waiting for monsoon season to develop and bring with it much-needed moisture. Large portions of both states have been dealing with severe to extreme drought.
Fire managers working a 2-week-old blaze on the Navajo Reservation near the Arizona-New Mexico line said Sunday that smoke from pockets of unburned fuel within the interior of that fire will likely continue until the area gets significant rain.
It was the same on the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, where crews have been managing a lightning-sparked fire that has blackened more than 16 square miles since being spotted June 17. They are using flames from the Oak Fire to improve forest conditions and acknowledge it will continue to smolder until the rains come.
Another blaze caused by lightning in northern New Mexico was putting up smoke Sunday afternoon that could be seen from as far away as Albuquerque. The 200-acre Diego Fire started earlier this week. Authorities said no structures were threatened, but structure protection crews have been requested.
Crews were being released from the fire on the Navajo Reservation so they could help with other fires in the West, while the team battling the San Juan Fire in Arizona was growing. More than 550 firefighters and other personnel were assigned to the blaze, along with two dozen engines, five helicopters, bulldozers and water tenders.
About 200 residents packed a community meeting Saturday evening, where incident commander Matt Reidy said forest thinning in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests helped firefighters establish anchor points from which to fight the flames.
About three dozen summer homes in the Red Cabin Ranch, Carlock Ranch and Whiting homestead areas remained evacuated as a precaution, and authorities said more than 90 structures in the three communities could be threatened. Those structures include homes, barns and sheds.
Authorities said Sunday that no structures have burned, and no injuries have been reported.
The fire remained zero percent contained, but crews were confident about the east and northeast side, where it had been spreading in previous days. Earlier, flames jumped containment lines on the eastern flank.