Wildfires smolder across dry, drought-stricken Southwest

GLOBE, Ariz. (AP) — Firefighters gained a toehold Wednesday on a massive wildfire in Arizona, one of several burning across the Southwest in states facing dry heat and drought conditions.

The so-called Telegraph Fire burning south of Superior, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Phoenix, went overnight from no containment to 21% contained, fire officials said in a news release.

More than 750 firefighters conducted burnout operations through the night to protect structures, including electric utilities and highway infrastructure. Overseen by the Southwest Type 1 Incident Management Team, crews will now focus on establishing a fire line along the Highway 60 corridor and in the Pinal Mountains.

The blaze, which has spread through Pinal and Gila counties, has burned more than 125 square miles (324 square kilometers).

Thousands of residents across Globe, Miami and smaller communities have been stuck in various stages of the evacuation process.

At least 2,500 homes in Gila County have been evacuated, Carl Melford, the county emergency manager, said Tuesday. He estimated that there were twice as many households in the “set” mode with bags packed just in case.

Meanwhile, in Pinal County, Superior residents remain in “set” mode while hundreds were evacuated from the community of Top-Of-The-World.

Among the properties destroyed was a second home near the Globe-Miami area that belonged to Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers.

The fire also forced closures on most highways leading out of town. However, US 70 between Globe and Fort Thomas reopened Wednesday.

The blaze was first reported Friday and is believed to be human-caused.

Firefighters on another wildfire several miles east made significant progress Wednesday with 33% containment. The so-called Mescal Fire southeast of Globe forced residents of three communities to evacuate. But around 150 residents from Soda Canyon and Coyote Flats communities were allowed to return home.

In New Mexico, crews also were fighting blazes, including one that was sparked by lightning three weeks ago in the Gila National Forest. It has charred more than 71 square miles (184 square kilometers) and has forced the closure of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and much of the surrounding wilderness.

While fire restrictions have been in place for New Mexico’s forests since earlier this spring, some cities recently opted for fireworks restrictions ahead of the July 4th holiday. They are citing elevated fire danger as hot and dry conditions persist across the region.

Residents in New Mexico’s largest city woke up Wednesday to find Albuquerque once again shrouded in smoke from the fires in Arizona. The yellow haze stretched up the Rio Grande Valley and obscured views of the surrounding mountain ranges.

Utah, mired in extreme drought, was facing multiple wildfires Wednesday. The largest blaze is one that started Tuesday near the town of Price that was about 3 square miles (8 square kilometers) as of Wednesday morning, according to the Utah fire information website run by state and federal agencies.

Gov. Spencer Cox said this was the state’s worst drought in decades and announced a fireworks bans for all state lands and unincorporated private lands to reduce the risk of wildfires. ___

Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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