- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

CIBECUE, Ariz. (AP) The man charged with starting one of the blazes that has blackened a huge swath of Arizona forest and destroyed hundreds of homes was fascinated with flame when he was a boy and sometimes set fires, a foster brother said.
Federal prosecutors have accused Leonard Gregg, 29, of starting the blaze in dry grass because he wanted to earn money as part of a fire crew.
Wilson Gregg, the suspect's brother by adoption, recalled how he was intrigued by fire as a child and occasionally set dangerous ones including a backyard bonfire that almost swept out of control.
"Whenever my mother would cook, he would watch the flames," Wilson Gregg told the Arizona Republic for its editions yesterday. "It fascinated him."
He also told the newspaper that his foster brother found it difficult to support his girlfriend and her six children.
"He only had one job left, and that was firefighting," Wilson Gregg said.
Authorities said Leonard Gregg made $8 per hour fighting fires.
Other residents of the White Mountain Apache reservation were reluctant to talk about Leonard Gregg or his family. Some said they were concerned about what the family would think if they talked about him, and several neighbors turned a reporter away without talking.
If convicted of both counts of willfully setting fire to timber or underbrush, Leonard Gregg could face 10 years in prison and be fined $500,000. A preliminary hearing was set for tomorrow.
Leonard Gregg is the second person employed to fight wildfires who is accused of setting blazes during one of the country's most destructive fire seasons. In Colorado, Terry Barton, a former U.S. Forest Service employee, was charged in June with setting the fire about 40 miles southwest of Denver that has burned about 137,760 acres.
Meanwhile yesterday, firefighters fanned out from the fire lines south of Forest Lakes, Ariz., the community most threatened by the 463,000-acre blaze, to remove potential fuel or reinforce firebreaks. The blaze was about 45 percent contained.
"We believe we've really turned the corner on this thing," said fire information officer Tim Buxton.
Fire officials also planned to meet with local officials to discuss a timetable for allowing 3,500 to 4,000 evacuees to return to their homes, fire spokesman Art Wirtz said. About 25,000 people already had been allowed to return to Show Low and some nearby towns during the weekend.
Mr. Buxton said it would be at least a few more days before the remaining evacuees were allowed to return.
Major fires active yesterday in eight Western states had charred nearly 1 million acres, the National Interagency Fire Center said.
Officials in South Dakota's Black Hills said that some Deadwood residents driven out by a wildfire could be allowed to return to the historic Wild West town as early as today. A fire that started Saturday had forced the evacuation of 10,000 to 15,000 residents and tourists from Deadwood and parts of nearby Lead during the weekend.
The wind-whipped fire in rough terrain had grown to 6,200 acres yesterday and was only 10 percent contained, down from 35 percent on Sunday, officials said. Three houses and nine other buildings had been destroyed.
Near Durango, Colo., some people evacuated from homes were allowed to return home yesterday but were warned to be ready to leave on quick notice if the fire flares up again. About 150 people remained evacuated. The fire, which had destroyed 56 homes, was 40 percent contained.


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