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Fires burn 1.4M acres in 11 states

June 22, 2011 at 5:12 PM   |   Comments

GREER, Ariz., June 22 (UPI) -- Arizona's Monument fire was 45 percent contained Wednesday after the first phase of a two-day burnout operation to protect hundreds of homes, officials said.

Diminished winds gave fire crews the chance to set a 3-mile controlled burn between the Garden and Monument fires, removing flammables so the fire "runs out of fuel and suffocates" if it approaches homes in the area, fire information officer Matt Reed told The Arizona Republic.

Residents of Greer, Ariz., were being permitted to return to their homes Tuesday, but evacuation orders were still in force elsewhere in Arizona and in Luna, N.M., CNN said. Residents in parts of Apache County, Ariz., have been told to be prepared to evacuate.

Fifty-three wildfires have burned about 1.4 million acres in 11 states and resulted in the deaths of two firefighters in Florida, officials said.

Florida Division of Forestry rangers Josh Burch, 31, and Brett Fulton, 52, were killed Monday while fighting the Blue Ribbon fire in Hamilton County, Fla., CNN reported. The fire had been declared contained but division spokeswoman Amanda Bevis said the fire suddenly flared, killing Birch and Fulton.

Two firefighters who were injured trying to rescue Birch and Fulton were expected to recover, Bevis said.

A fire near Grimes County, Texas -- which authorities said was caused by homeowners grilling -- destroyed at least 26 homes and burned more than 4,000 acres. Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell said authorities have identified a person of interest who may have built the barbecue pit where the fire started, but arson is not suspected, KHOU-TV, Houston, reported.

The National Interagency Coordination Center said fires from Florida to Alaska have burned at least 2,166 square miles, including 853,518 acres in Arizona and New Mexico. The Wallow fire alone has burned 527,774 acres. Officials said the Wallow fire, the largest wildfire so far this season, was about 56 percent contained Tuesday.

Authorities said they were watching a fire in Pender County, N.C., that had burned 4,000 acres.

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