NASA satellite images show the Wallow Fire currently has consumed nearly 389,000 acres of Arizona’s Apache National Forest and may beat the state’s largest fire on record, 2002's Rodeo-Chediski blaze, which burned 468,638 acres. To fight it, the U.S. Forest Service has deployed more than 2,500 interagency firefighters through a joint incident command system in the area, said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell during a press conference.
“We are coordinating the resources available at local, state and federal levels,” he said. “While damage to homes, communities and people has been limited so far, we anticipate that the current dry and windy conditions will lead to several difficult days of firefighting ahead of us… .”
Meanwhile, the Arizona Emergency Information Network blamed high winds for energizing the Wallow Fire and igniting spot fires as much as three miles ahead of the fire front on June 8. The fire’s smoke has affected air quality through much of the U.S., and a wildfire burning out of control in eastern Arizona is approaching a transmission line located in Springerville, Ariz., that provides almost 40% of power to El Paso Electric.
Chief Max Sadler’s firefighters are fending off the fire in Springerville, a town a population of less than 2,000 located within Apache County. Sadler said as of midday June 9, one fire department unit was left to protect the town, while two units are deployed to assist with burnout operations. However, winds are down from 25 mph today versus 35 to 40 yesterday.
Radio communications haven’t been affected by the fire, although last week they lost cell communications when the Alpine fire engulfed a Verizon tower, Sadler said. As far as direct fire line tactical communications, analog and digital communications performed as expected.
“You always have problems [with communications],” he admitted. “But they seem to be working fine.”
Springerville and the neighboring Eagar towns currently are secure, Sadler said. He attributes it to trained firefighters who are well-versed in fire suppression and radio communications as well as being strong enough to face the rigors of firefighting.
“Working with these groups of responders and departments is just a blessing,” Sadler said.
The Wallow Fire allegedly started because of an uncontained camp fire on May 29.
“The causes of the three large fires in Arizona (e.g., the Wallow fire, Horseshoe 2 fire, Murphy fire) are still under investigation,” Tidwell said.