Break in Weather Helps Firefighters Battling AZ Blaze

By: SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN and BOB CHRISTIE - Associated Press Writers
By: SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN and BOB CHRISTIE - Associated Press Writers

A massive wildfire in eastern Arizona has now burned 639 square miles of forest and is likely to spread into New Mexico soon if it hasn't already crossed the border.

Fire spokesman Jim Whittington said Friday the blaze in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has destroyed 31 homes or cabins, including 22 in the picturesque mountain community of Greer.

But Whittington says lighter winds Thursday and Friday have helped the 3,000 firefighters on the lines make good progress, but it was still just five-percent contained.

Authorities will not let the nearly 10,000 people evacuated from two towns and several mountain communities return until they're sure the residents will be safe.

He also says higher winds expected Saturday will be a challenge and the blaze will grow.

The fire ranks as the second-largest in Arizona's history. It's destroyed dozens of buildings, including 22 homes in the resort community of Greer. Crews are trying to keep the flames from spreading to the towns of Eagar and Springerville. Thousands of people have been evacuated.

Authorities say the blaze was sparked by a campfire.

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