USA: July 9, 2002 PHOENIX, Ariz. – Fire officials declared the largest wildfire in Arizonahistory fully contained on the weekend, ending nearly three weeks of battles to save towns and Ponderosa pine forests from wind-drivenwalls of flame.
Damage tallies showed that the Rodeo-Chediski fire charred 468,638acres (187,445 hectares) in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and Fort Apache reservation and destroyed more than 400 homes, said fireinformation officer Mary Stuever. The burned areas remained closed to the public while fire crews rehabilitated the wide swaths of bare soil left by bulldozers and flames sothat imminent rains don’t erode the denuded slopes. The fire, which began June 18, was declared 100 percent contained after firefighters in helicopters toured the burn zone and determined the fireremained within fire lines, Stuever said. “We are pretty confident with the perimeter,” she said. “There will still besome fires inside the black area…. As far as making sure the fire isn’t going to burn to a new community, we are pretty confident.”
Nearly 1,000 firefighters worked on the blaze on the weekend, mainly smoothing out 300-foot-wide (100 metres) bulldozer tracks, reseeding,mulching and replacing trees and vegetation, Stuever said. Fire crews brought in from surrounding areas expect to be demobilized starting yesterday, leaving the mop up duties to local crews. “This is a real big corner on this fire to say we have suppressed it,” she said. “But the disaster is not alleviated.”
A part-time firefighter pleaded innocent last week to federal charges of starting the Rodeo fire, which merged with the smaller Chediski fire to become an inferno. Prosecutors said Leonard Gregg, 29, set two fires on the Apache reservation to give himself work for the summer. Authorities said a lost hiker started the Chediski fire on June 20 to attract the attention of a television news helicopter. No charges have been filed in that incident, which remains under investigation.
In Utah, firefighters battled two large blazes on the state’s eastern border which threatened homes and natural gas wells. The large fires and four smaller blazes have charred more than 116,000 acres (46,300 hectares) across Utah since late last month, fire officials said. A 13,500-acre (5,400 hectare) wind-driven fire burning eight miles (13 km) south of the Utah-Wyoming border in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest was 45 percent contained on the weekend afternoon, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kathy Hardy. High humidity and light rains slowed the blaze’s spread over the weekend but wind and high temperatures forecast for Monday brought worries that the fire would jump hard-won fire lines on the high-elevation slopes,Hardy said.
About 200 miles (320 km) to the south, rugged terrain and record hightemperatures hampered firefighters’ efforts to control a 74,500-acre (29,800-hectare) blaze near the Four Corner resort of Moab. The lightning-spawned fire was 22 percent contained on the weekendafternoon but fire officials did not say when they thought it would be fully contained. The blaze destroyed an outbuilding and threatened five ranches on theweekend. Firefighters shut off 20 to 30 natural gas wells in the fire’s path on theweekend.