PHOENIX Firefighters battling a giant blaze in southeastern Arizona Thursday looked hopefully to the skies as they battled to save a $200 million international mountain-top observatory and two small housing areas.
Buoyed by high humidity and partial cloud cover, about 900 firefighters took to the lines with the help of 11 helicopters and 32 fire engines to beat back two stubborn, wind-swept wildfires that have charred nearly 25,000 acres on Mount Graham.
Expected wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour made the situation less predictable, with the fires only 25 percent contained as of Thursday morning.
“We’ve made good progress, but the threat to the observatory is still there,” said Dave Killebrew, a fire spokesman. “You really never know what could happen.”
Fire officials report that the lightning-caused fires, which broke out more than a week ago, remain about a mile from the acclaimed observatory and 100 cabins in the now-deserted Turkey Flat and Columbine enclaves.
Several people remain at the Mount Graham International Observatory to operate a 50,000-gallon sprinkler system that officials say may help prevent damage to the expensive equipment. Residents were forced from their homes in the area over the weekend.
Elsewhere in Arizona, fire crews worked to extinguish the nearly 110,000-acre Willow blaze northeast of Phoenix that has forced the closure of a stretch of a state highway. Two major powerlines have temporarily been taken out of service.
Officials said they expect the highway to be closed for several days as crews battle the fire that started June 24 and is roughly 25 percent contained. About 770 firefighters were on the scene in the Tonto National Forest.