Arizona fires forces evacuations in 3 communities

By the Associated Press | June 3, 2011 | 4:14 AM EDT

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Wildfires burning through tinder-dry brush and timber lands in Arizona forced dozens of evacuations in three small communities, authorities said.

The evacuation order for Paradise and East Whitetail Canyon in southeastern Arizona went out Thursday night as strong winds pushed the so called Horseshoe Two fire toward the towns, the Cochise County Sheriff's office said.

The nearby Chiricahua National Monument was closed as a precaution.

Earlier in the day, people living in or staying in Alpine in eastern Arizona were ordered to evacuate by evening. A shelter was set up at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside.

There was no exact figure on the number of evacuees. Alpine is home to about 250 people, though not all live there year-round.

The Alpine blaze, known as the Wallow fire, has burned 63 square miles (40,500 acres) of forest land and is being fanned by strong winds. It's at zero containment, fire officials said.

The Horseshoe Two fire has been burning for days and has charred about 135 square miles (86,000 acres) of brush and timber. Officials said it had been 75 percent contained until the winds picked up, dropping containment down to 50 percent.

Paradise has about a dozen occupied homes and many other vacation residences, Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff's office, told The Associated Press. East Whitetail Canyon has about a dozen homes.

The U.S. Forest Service said about 800 firefighters are battling the blaze, and many are involved in protecting structures in the evacuated communities.

Meanwhile, a wildfire burning in northern Arizona has threatened the closure of part of Interstate 40 west of Flagstaff, officials said.

The Engineer fire has burned about 100 acres near Camp Navajo, an Army National Guard Base in Bellemont.

KTVK-TV in Phoenix reports I-40 remains open Thursday night but could close if smoke gets too heavy or conditions become dangerous.