Firefighters have battled through the night in an attempt to protect numerous Arizona mountain communities from the spreading Wallow fire that has forced thousands to evacuate and flee their homes.
The fire has now become the second largest ever seen in Arizona, and is threatening electricity supplies as far away as Texas.
The fire, which during Wednesday night was being reported as covering 607-square miles, is expected to reach power lines by early Friday. It is feared that if lines are damaged, hundreds of thousands in New Mexico and Texas would face rolling blackouts.
For the early part of this week driving winds have meant fire crews were unable to hold back the blaze. However, they are hopeful that weather forecasts on Thursday will hold true and winds would die down allowing them to slow the spreading fire.
According to AP, fire information officer Jim Whittington said at a late night briefing Wednesday at a rest stop on the edge of Springerville: “Don't get complacent just because we don't have a red flag warning. Ten to 15 mph winds are good winds to drive fire, especially through grass, so we're going to have to be very careful.”
The past two days have been spent by fire crews attempting to create a line from which they could defend towns most at risk. Bulldozers and hand crews have been used to clear vegetation, and as of Wednesday night the line had not been broken.
More than a dozen helicopters have been used to fight the blaze, and more help is being drafted in on Thursday as a 747 super tanker is expected to arrive on the scene.
Texas-based power company El Paso Electric has issued warnings of possible power interruptions across southern New Mexico and West Texas. It is feared that two high voltage lines used to bring electricity from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix to the two states is at risk. If the fire does bring these lines down is estimated about 40 percent of the company’s supply would be lost, which could cause rolling blackouts for up to 372,000 customers.
The Wallow Fire started May 29 as a small fire but began to balloon in size last Wednesday. By Sunday it had burned 144,000 acres and by Tuesday, nearly 400,000 acres.
Although still unconfirmed, fire officials believe that the mammoth wildfire was caused by an unattended campfire.
“I’m trying to protect my belongings as best I can,” said Wayne Lutz, an Eagar resident, to Reuters. “But if push comes to shove, I can be out of here in 10 minutes. The house is insured. My life is not.”
Meanwhile, 66-year-old local Jeanne Udall said, “There’s nothing we can do. It’s out of our control and into the Lord’s hands.”