- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

SHOW LOW, Ariz. (AP) Two mammoth wildfires raging unchecked through paper-dry forest merged late last night into a single blaze of about 300,000 acres that threatened to burn into this evacuated town, a fire official said.
Before they came together, the blazes had destroyed about 185 homes elsewhere in the highlands of eastern Arizona, and as many as 25,000 people had fled more than half a dozen towns, including Show Low.
Having a merged fire makes in easier to fight in one respect, said Larry Humphrey, the fire incident commander.
"Before, we couldn't put people in the middle of this fire. With one perimeter, it makes it a little simpler," Mr. Humphrey said.
Last night, the fire remained outside Show Low, though a few spot fires had been reported on the western part of town, he said.
Officials had initially said they expected the fire to enter the town about midafternoon.
"We were just lucky," Mr. Humphrey said. "We ran a lot of retardant on it. It's sitting, waiting on us."
Trees could be seen exploding into flame on the western horizon, and three or four slurry bombers dipped low behind trees, making several passes. Several brown columns of smoke swirled in the air. The sun glowed deep red through the dirty cloud.
"Sometimes, these fires make a big run on one day and then they rest on the next day and make another run the next. It's definitely still going to get into Show Low. There's no doubt," he said.
"It's gut-wrenching watching this plume of smoke come up over us and knowing what's behind it and knowing what it's going to do to our community," Show Low police Chief John Corder said yesterday. "My house is probably going to be one of the first houses to go."
Firefighters braced to defend neighborhoods on the west side of town.
"This is going to be a tough day," said fire spokesman Jim Paxon. "We're going to get beat up pretty hard."
Afternoon temperatures yesterday reached the 90s, with single-digit humidity and shifting wind that was expected to fan the flames further.
As flames Saturday overran Heber-Overgaard, 35 miles west of Show Low, firefighters were able to save a large number of houses with help from air tankers that had dropped flame-retardant slurry directly on rooftops, Mr. Paxon said. Seventy homes burned there, he said.
Firefighters likely couldn't stop flames from entering Show Low, either, Mr. Humphrey said. Their plan called for pulling back, letting the fire hit and then fighting where they could.
"We'll spend our time on the ones we can possibly save," Mr. Humphrey said. "It's a tough call, but we have to make it."
Show Low's residents were ordered out late Saturday after flames leapt a firebreak that crews had bulldozed about eight miles west of town, and the 3,500 residents of neighboring Pinetop-Lakeside followed early yesterday.
The two wildfires had earlier overrun parts of the evacuated towns of Pinedale and Clay Springs.

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