The Wallow fire in eastern Arizona, believed to have been started by campers, has now raged for 13 days, and is the second-largest in the state’s history. It has scorched an area bigger than Los Angeles.It cut through the popular mountain retreat of Greer, which had been evacuated days before, authorities told reporters in the nearby town of Springerville.
As many as 11,000 residents have been displaced in the White Mountains region, since the fire started on 29 May.
Smoke rising from the flames had reached right across the country on Tuesday, visible six states to the east, and cancelled flights hundreds of miles away. Smoke is said to be visible in New Mexico, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado – where some municipal health departments have issued air-quality warnings.
About 2,500 firefighters have fought the blaze, some coming in from as far away as New York.
Despite improved conditions, the fire continued to burn dangerously close to several mountain towns that have been evacuated in recent days and also threatened electrical transmission lines that, if severed, could affect electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers in the region.
El Paso Electric, which provides power to southern New Mexico and West Texas, said that the fire was burning near two of its transmission lines that carry power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona, about 40 percent of the company’s available generation. If the lines are damaged by the fire, company officials said, El Paso Electric may have to use rolling blackouts as a conservation measure.
Nadine Handy, who owns two assisted living centers and six child-care centers in Las Cruces, said that with the possibility of rolling blackouts, staff members at the facilities have been told to ready generators and emergency lights.
“I feel like we’re doing everything we can,” she said. “We’re even doing a little hoping. Hoping that this fire will go out.”