Wildfire Burns More Than 200 Homes in Az.
ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN, Associated Press Writer
June 19, 2003
TUCSON, Ariz. - A wildfire driven by winds up to 60 mph roared through
a southern Arizona mountain community Thursday, burning 200 to 250
homes, a fire official said.
It took less than an hour for the fire to tear through an area of
Summerhaven with about 500 homes, burning some and sparing others,
said Larry Humphrey, commander of the team directing the fight against
Firefighters had hoped to protect the homes on Mount Lemmon north
of Tucson by making a stand along a trail about a mile away, but had
to pull back when the intense blaze crossed the path, Humphrey said.
The fire had forced the evacuation of Summerhaven, a community with
hundreds of vacation homes and about 100 year-round residents, shortly
after it started Tuesday.
Humphrey said the fire, which had been reported at about 465 acres
early Thursday, had grown to cover thousands of acres by late afternoon,
and could threaten radio transmitters and a radar facility on the
The blaze consumed pine trees ravaged by years of drought and an infestation
of tree-killing bark beetles. It was one of several wildfires throughout
Arizona, where fire officials are braced for another busy year after
seeing a record 630,000 acres burned in 2002.
Humphrey said crews planned to fight structure fires through the night.
They were hampered by exploding propane tanks and downed power lines,
"We're going to continue to go in there ... and protect the ones
that we can and save the ones that we can," Humphrey said. "And
then we're going to go back to the drawing board to see what we can
do to put this fire to sleep."
About 400 people were fighting the fire, assisted by air tankers and
helicopters. But with high winds and low humidity expected to hinder
their efforts in coming days, "there's not a thing happening
that's on our side," Humphrey said.
"This fire is burning very hot, very intense," said Chadeen
Palmer, a spokeswoman for the team directing the firefighting efforts.
Palmer said the wildfire resembled last year's Rodeo-Chediski fire,
the worst in Arizona history. That eastern Arizona blaze covered 469,000
acres, destroyed 491 buildings and forced the evacuation of about
Summerhaven has an estimated 700 homes and cabins and a handful of
businesses. Its population swells during weekends and summers as visitors
drive up 9,157-foot Mount Lemmon to escape the desert heat.
Gov. Janet Napolitano had planned to declare Summerhaven a disaster
area Thursday evening, clearing the way for government money to be
spent in response to the blaze.