(Photo: Reuters / Joshua Lott)
The Wallow Fire has now scorched over 300,000 acres in eastern Arizona, making it the second largest wildfire in the state’s history.
In less than 24 hours, Wallow engulfed some 78,000 acres of land. Fire officials said the unrelenting wildfire’s total destruction is 311,481 acres. As of Tuesday afternoon, the fire is 0 percent contained.
Arizona’s largest fire is called the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire, which burned 467,000 acres in 2002.
Firefighters are having a hard time containing the Wallow Fire because of weather conditions – high heat and strong winds – fueling the flames and moving the fire in unpredictable patterns.
The Wallow Fire started on May 29 as a small fire but started ballooning in size last Wednesday night. It has forced the evacuation of smaller mountain communities Alpine, Blue River, Greer, Nutrioso and Sunrise, according to Arizona’s radio station KTAR. Residents of larger towns such as Springerville and Eager are in pre-evacuation mode, and are prepared to leave if the wildfire spreads to their area.
Wind speeds of up to 30 to 40 mph are proving problematic to firefighters’ efforts to contain the flaming beast.
In addition to forcing residents out of their home, the Wallow Fire is also raising concern as it moves towards Tucson Electric Power’s main generating station. The wildfire is about 30 miles away from the power plant, but closer to transmission lines, according to Arizona’s Fox11.
If the fire moves too close to the transmission lines, TEP plans to shut down those lines to protect firefighters.
“That in itself would not cause power outages here in Tucson, but it would make us more vulnerable to outages in the event something else occurs,” said Joe Salkowski of Tucson Electric Power.
The Wallow Fire is also threatening to invade New Mexico. The City of Albuquerque has issued an air quality alert due to the wildfire’s smoke that is effective until Thursday. Smoke from the Wallow Fire can be seen in New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, and as far away as Iowa.
Currently, the American Red Cross is meeting the emergency needs of wildfire evacuees staying in shelters. According to the Red Cross, about 2,700 people have evacuated from the towns of Alpine and Greer alone. Red Cross said partner agencies such as The Salvation Army are on standby in case a large mobile feeding unit is needed.