By TERRY TANG
PHOENIX (AP) — Firefighters in Arizona were fighting Tuesday to gain a foothold into a massive wildfire, one of two that has forced thousands of evacuations in rural towns and closed almost every major highway out of the area.
The so-called Telegraph Fire, straddling two counties, has burned 112 square miles (290 square kilometers) and is at zero containment. The blaze was first reported Friday south of Superior in Pinal County, about 60 miles (96.6 kilometers) east of Phoenix.
Residents in neighboring Gila County, which includes Globe, Miami and smaller communities, have been in various stages of the evacuation process. The town of Miami is among those under an evacuation order.
At least 2,500 homes in Gila County have been evacuated, said Carl Melford, the county emergency manager. He estimated that there are twice as many households who are in “set” mode with bags packed just in case.
“Over the past three years, we’ve had some pretty extreme fire seasons,” said Melford, who has bags at his front door. “We’ve become very familiar with the process with what it takes to evacuate a community. But this is the largest evacuation to date.”
Becky Stephenson, 37, whose Globe home sits on a hill near the U.S. Highway 60, is feet away from a zone under “set” status. Still, she decided to have essentials including her pet parrot, Buddy, and his travel cage ready to go.
Watching flames climb trees Monday night from her home as the fire made its way into the Pinal Mountains and create an eerie orange glow was surreal, Stephenson said.
“Honestly, it just makes me feel like I can’t wait till they get it under control and I can go out and start helping them revegetate,” said Stephenson, who is a plant biologist. “It’s just really sad to think about all of the torched plants and all of animals that lost their habitat during breeding season.”
Meanwhile, Superior residents remain in “set” mode. But about 400 people in nearby Top-Of-The-World have been evacuated, said Lauren Reimer, a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Officials with the American Red Cross say 90 residents in total stayed Monday at shelters in Globe and Mesa.
The fire was human-caused. But fire officials have not shared further details.
Several miles east of the wildfire, the smaller Mescal Fire was at 23% containment Tuesday. Fire officials lifted evacuation orders for residents of the community of San Carlos and in the areas of Soda Canyon and Coyote Flats. But the community of East El Capitan was still on mandatory evacuation.
The fire has burned nearly 105 square miles (13 square kilometers) — mostly desert brush, oak and grass. It was first reported June 2 southeast of Globe.
The cause is still under investigation.