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Two Arizona towns to empty as wildfire approaches

Thursday, June 9, 2011 | 9:50 a.m. CDT; updated 5:33 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 9, 2011
A firefighter sets a backburn to fight the Wallow Fire along highway 260 near Eagar, Ariz., Thursday, June 9, 2011.

SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. — A raging forest fire in eastern Arizona that already forced thousands from their homes headed Wednesday for a pair of transmission lines that supply electricity to hundreds of thousands of people as far east as Texas.

The 607-square-mile blaze is expected to reach the power lines as early as Friday. If the lines are damaged, parts of New Mexico and Texas could face rolling blackouts.

Meanwhile, an Arizona sheriff ordered remaining residents of two towns in the path of the wildfire to evacuate by Wednesday evening. About 7,000 people live in Springerville, Eagar and surrounding areas, though many already have left.

The blaze has blackened about 389,000 acres and destroyed 11 buildings, primarily in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. No serious injuries have been reported.

Firefighters had spent the past two days trying to create a line where they could defend the towns. They used bulldozers to scrape off vegetation and hand crews to remove other fuels. The line hasn't been breached, but a spot fire did find an opening, fire department spokesman Jim Whittington said.

By late Wednesday afternoon, the streets of Springerville were mostly empty. Apache County sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement officers could be seen going house-to-house as they looked for remaining residents. Authorities were marking homes with yellow caution tape to signify that residents had left.

 

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