- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Firefighters moved bulldozers up Mount Lemmon yesterday to try to stop a raging wildfire that destroyed more than 250 homes in a vacation community.

The blaze has charred more than 12,400 acres of pine forest on the mountain just north of Tucson and is only 5 percent contained, firefighters spokesman Gerry Engel said.

Crews planned to use the bulldozers to fight the blaze’s northward spread by digging a firebreak connecting roads, natural features and an area that had burned over last year.

Officials said they appeared to have saved a University of Arizona observatory on top of Mount Lemmon.

They were still protecting what remained of Summerhaven, a mountaintop community where the fire roared through on Thursday, destroying more than 250 of the 700 homes there.

“I think everything that hasn’t burned is still at risk,” said Jeff Whitney, deputy commander of the team fighting the fire.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, but the flames were fueled by pine trees ravaged by years of drought and a beetle infestation. The flames soon spread across the top of 9,157-foot Mount Lemmon and headed down the north slope.

The fire’s run down the north slope prompted officials to evacuate the YMCA’s Triangle Y Ranch Camp, where 250 children had been scheduled to arrive beginning Sunday. The fire was still about three miles from the camp as of late Sunday, and it was in no imminent danger.

The firebreak will be set up between the camp and the fire.

Firefighters said lighter vegetation at lower elevations eventually will help them get a handle on the blaze, but it could take a few weeks to contain it entirely.

Summerhaven has about 100 year-round residents, but its population grows during the summer and on weekends as Tucson residents drive up the mountain to escape the desert heat.

Elsewhere yesterday, about 70 firefighters attacked a blaze in northern New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains, which are dotted with communities and laced with hiking and biking trails. The 250-acre fire was not yet threatening any homes or other structures in the area north of Albuquerque, officials said.

“We’re trying to get a handle on this fire and keep it small at this point,” said Charlie Jankiewicz, a fire information officer with the Santa Fe National Forest. About 280 more firefighters were being assigned to the blaze.

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