Wildfire hits Arizona Indian reservation for second time

WHITERIVER, Ariz. -- Hundreds of people were kept from their homes for a second day Tuesday as a wildfire swept across an Indian reservation that was devastated a year ago by the largest wildfire in state history.

Crews dug firebreaks along the fire's flanks and hoped to join the lines in an effort to protect other communities north of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

On Monday, as many as 5,000 people were forced to flee at least 700 homes in Whiteriver, which is the tribal headquarters, and other communities on the reservation threatened by the blaze.

The fire also burned within four miles of the point that would trigger evacuations in Pinetop-Lakeside and nearby mountain communities about 20 miles to the north, where the population swells to 30,000 in the summer.

The fire was started by lightning Sunday east of the flashpoint for last summer's Rodeo-Chediski fire, the largest wildfire in state history.

That fire devastated timber on the reservation, while charring 469,000 acres and destroying 491 homes in surrounding communities.

It also forced thousands to evacuate Pinetop-Lakeside, a tourist town of 3,500, and the nearby city of Show Low, but didn't burn homes in either.

"Our hearts are with the residents of Whiteriver and the surrounding areas," Gov. Janet Napolitano said Tuesday. "We are pulling for the firefighters."

Napolitano declared a state of emergency in Gila and Navajo counties, freeing up $200,000 for firefighting efforts.

Art Morrison, a spokesman for the fire crew, said firefighters expected some help from logging, forest thinning and prescribed burns the White Mountain Apache Tribe had done north of where the wildfire was burning.

"We're calm," said Brenda Walker, who was evacuated from her Whiteriver home. "It's just kind of hard to deal with it because we had one last year and we got over it and now it's here again."

Meanwhile, a fire in Utah that officials say likely was started by sparks from a backhoe destroyed six summer homes and damaged several others. The fire east of Huntsville, which had burned about 360 acres, was expected to be contained by Tuesday night.

A voluntary evacuation was suggested for three developments in the area that contains several hundred homes.

A brush fire near Reno, Nev., burned nearly 1,500 acres near residential neighborhoods by Tuesday, but firefighters managed to reduce the biggest threat to about 150 homes, said Christie Kalkowski, a spokeswoman for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The fire, which officials believe was human-caused, was 50 percent contained Tuesday.

In Washington, crews had established fire lines around 70 percent of a fire 20 miles west of Yakima, enabling residents of 20 homes evacuated Friday to return. The blaze held steady Tuesday at about 2,000 acres, and firefighters hoped continued light wind would allow them to contain it Wednesday or Thursday, fire spokesman Mark Grassel said.

Wildfires also were active in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

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