- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

SHOW LOW, Ariz. (AP) Authorities gave the go-ahead yesterday for thousands of evacuees to return to their homes in this mountain town, threatened for more than a week by a massive wildfire.
Residents also were allowed to begin returning yesterday to homes in neighboring Pinetop-Lakeside and Hon-Dah and to small towns just west of Show Low that were hit hard by the blaze.
In all, more than 25,000 people were being allowed back home, Navajo County Sheriff Gary Butler said.
At an evacuation center in Holbrook, a dozen people watching the announcement on television appeared stunned, then eager to leave.
"Let's go. We're going home," said Robert Trent of Pinetop-Lakeside.
The 447,000-acre wildfire has destroyed at least 423 homes and was about 25 percent contained by fire lines yesterday, but it continued burning out of control elsewhere.
Firefighters were still working to keep flames from bursting out of steep canyons and entering Forest Lakes, a subdivision of 600 homes some 40 miles west of Show Low.
"We're on edge," said fire spokesman Jim Paxon.
Forest Lakes sits on a plateau above steep canyons. Flames pushed out of one of the canyons during the night and started several spot fires beyond a containment line, Mr. Paxon said. Firefighters extinguished all of the spot fires.
The fire had burned to within less than a half mile of the western edge of Show Low, and a week ago authorities were certain a wall of flame would roar through town. The city's 7,700 residents were ordered evacuated on June 22.
All together, the fire had forced about 30,000 evacuations in nine different communities.
Residents of areas farther west of Show Low, including Heber-Overgaard, where more than 200 homes burned, were still under orders to stay out, with 3,500 to 4,000 people still kept from their homes.
West from Show Low, the highway to hard-hit Heber-Overgaard was marked by strips of road turned copper-red from fire retardant. The landscape included black skeletons of pine trees, soot-covered wedding china and a charred saguaro cactus sculpture made of beer and pop cans. Scarred metal, springs and melted tires are all that remain of a Volvo.
"This thing was rockin' and rollin' when it came through here," fire information officer Dick Fleischman said of the fire, which charred hundreds of homes and vast stands of timber. "This place never had a chance."
Carlos Carrizosa retired last week and his wife was supposed to retire Friday. The couple planned to move into their home in Timberland Acres, a square mile of log cabins, trailers and ranch-style houses. Their home was reduced to a scarred one-acre patch. Now, retirement is on hold.
"We were going to come here, and now we have nothing to come to," Irene Carrizosa said.
In Colorado, another wildfire that had burned 71,000 acres north of Durango, was threatening 152 homes and 206 other buildings yesterday, information officer Bill Hayes said.
The fire had destroyed 56 homes. While most of the fire was burning northeast toward wilderness, fire crews focused on stemming its southwest spread toward Durango and its 15,000 residents. The fire was about three miles away.
In Wrightwood, Calif., firefighters were closing in on a blaze that destroyed four homes and burned across more than 6,500 acres about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.


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