(Photo: Reuters / Jim Urquhart)
The massive Wallow Fire, which has continued to burn throughout much of eastern Arizona for over two weeks now, set a record on Tuesday as the largest fire in state history.
Started from what authorities believe to be an unattended campfire on May 29th, the fire has burned over 469,000 acres and caused nearly 10,000 people to evacuate their homes, according to Reuters.
The roaring flames were within a mile of a neighboring New Mexico mountain burg in Luna – less than 10 miles east of the Arizona border – putting an estimated 200 residents on alert for possible evacuation.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a grant to help New Mexico pay for up to 75 percent of the cost of fighting the fire, Fox News reported.
Near the Colorado border, a wildfire fanned by high winds has also forced hundreds of people from their homes as well, nearly doubling in size on Monday.
The wildfire near the New Mexico-Colorado started Sunday on the west side of Interstate 25, jumped to the east side that afternoon, and moved along the southeast toward Raton, Sugarite State Park and Bartlett Mesa.
Eight hundred to 1,000 people have been out of their homes, staying at shelters or other areas of safety.
“It looks like your worst nightmare,” Raton Mayor Neil Segotta stated on Fox.
Segotta worries that the flames will threaten the city’s water treatment plant and watershed, which feeds a series of lakes that it uses for drinking water supplies.
Over 4,300 firefighters are working hard to contain the fires, which are spreading rapidly due to dry weather, dense vegetation and strong winds.
Though about 18 percent of the fire’s perimeter was reported to be contained as of Tuesday morning, firefighters believe it could still persist for another few weeks.
Some 8,000 residents in Springerville and Eager were able to return to their homes as evacuation orders were lifted on Sunday, with warnings that smoke and soot in the air could have potential health risks.
Thousands from nearby towns are still waiting for permission to return home.
“Nobody’s really in the clear yet,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Suzanne Flory announced. “Overall, there’s a sense of optimism.”
Compared to the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire, which is now the second largest fire recorded, the damage from the Wallow Fire has been far less destructive.
Thirty-one homes have so far been destroyed, compared to the 465 lost from the Rodeo-Chediski fire. Approximately three dozen nonresidential structures have also been lost, with no serious injuries reported yet.
While there is still much to be done, firefighters are remaining positive.
“It’s getting better every day,” fire spokesman Kelly Wood told The Daily Republic.