After being forced to evacuate their homes because of the Arizona Wallow Fire nearly two weeks ago, residents of Nutrioso that were evacuated because of the wildfire will be allowed to return home Wednesday morning.
Officials made the announcement at a community meeting late Tuesday night. Residents were warned they will see smoke and possibly active flames and crews at work in the area to contain the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history.
"We will be allowing residents only, property owners only of Nutrioso to start returning home," said Chief Deputy Brannon Eagar of the Apache County Sheriff's Office.
Some 200 Nutrioso residents will be allowed to go home starting 10 a.m. Wednesday. Only those showing forms of identification showing they live in Nutrioso will be issued permits to enter the area. Authorities will be stationed at the Eagar Rodeo Grounds to check IDs upon reentry.
"This is a total surprise," said Nutrioso evacuee Alan Miller told local TV station AZFamily after hearing the news. "I'm just grateful to all the firefighters and the Forest Service for doing what they have done to protect our homes."
"That feels good," Nutrioso resident Dave Derka told the Phoenix-based station. "I want to go home."
The evacuation order was also lifted for residents of White Mountain Acres.
The Arizona Wallow Fire set a new record Tuesday, becoming the largest wildfire in the history of the state. The fire has burned through 469,000 acres of woodland, destroyed 32 homes and forced nearly 10,000 people to evacuate their homes.
Officials reported Tuesday that the Wallow Fire, which has spread to the northern and eastern borders of New Mexico, is currently 20 percent contained. The blaze has burned through 733 square miles of land.
Before the Wallow Fire, the worst wildfire in Arizona was the 2002 Rodeo Chediski fire, which scorched 722 square miles in the state.
Evacuation orders are still in place for Arizona's Sunrise, Greer, Blue River and Alpine areas and Luna, N.M.