(Photo: Reuters / Jim Urquhart)
Arizona’s Wallow Fire is massive and has been growing by tens of thousands of acres a day. But it is not expected to surpass the state’s largest wildfire, the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire, said a fire chief.
As of Sunday night, the Wallow Fire was 10 percent contained, up from 0 percent last Thursday. It has burned nearly 450,000 acres, or 703-square miles. By comparison, the Rodeo-Chediski wildfire, which was actually two fires that merged into one, burned 467,000 acres, or 732 square miles.
“Everything is holding,” said Jerome Macdonald, fire operations chief, to The Associated Press. “Compared to what we’ve been dealing with just two days ago … we’re feeling a lot more confident. We turned a corner.”
Macdonald said he does not expect the Wallow Fire to grow larger than the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire.
But winds have picked up steadily since Saturday, making it more difficult for firefighters battling the mammoth Wallow Fire. Also, low humidity means firefighters can’t depend on moisture in the air to help them out.
About 100 homes were evacuated in New Mexico on Sunday, according to Houston’s Fox 26. Firefighters are working hard to fend off the wildfire and keep it from crossing over the border to New Mexico, although it is dangerously close to doing so.
There is better news in eastern Arizona, where evacuation orders were lifted in two eastern Arizona towns, Springerville and Eager. The 7,000 evacuated residents were allowed to return home on Sunday, but cautioned to be careful of the poor air quality. The some 2,700 residents of mountain communities are still under evacuation orders.
Especially the elderly, young children, and those with health problems were told to resist from coming back to their homes because of the air pollution from smoke and ash.
The Apache County sheriff’s department said if residents return, “they do so at their own risk knowing the hazards associated with possible health effects from wildfire smoke.”
On Sunday, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality described the air quality as “very unhealthy” in Springerville and Eagar.
The Wallow Fire began on May 29 from a suspected unattended campfire near Bear Wallow Wilderness, hence the name of the fire.