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Crews work to contain Arizona wildfires

May 16, 2012 at 9:42 AM

CROWN KING, Ariz., May 16 (UPI) -- Firefighters worked to keep a fire near Crown King, Ariz., from reaching terrain where it could grow rapidly and threaten suppression work, officials said.

Loretta Benavidez, a fire incident spokeswoman, said if flames spread beyond the western fire line, a bowl in the terrain could help the blaze to spread rapidly to the south, threaten homes and businesses in the historic mining community, and could force fire crews to stop their operations, The Arizona Republic reported Tuesday.

"There could be a potential for fire behavior that would not allow [firefighters] to go in safely," Benavidez said. "With the potential for wind in the coming days, that's always a possibility."

Three homes have been destroyed, fire spokeswoman Karen Takai said, and many residents have elected to remain in Crown King despite evacuation orders.

The residents "need to get out of there," Takai told the Republic Tuesday. "Once the fire is in their backyard, we can't get them out."

The National Weather Service issued a hazardous-weather outlook into next week for the regions surrounding the Gladiator, Sunflower, Elwood and Bull Flat fires. Strong winds and low humidity were forecast for the afternoon hours, and winds were expected to be in the 10- to 20 mph range.

The Gladiator Fire was caused by a propane tank that was ignited by a house fire. None of the fire is contained, officials said. So far, 2,000 acres have been consumed.

The Sunflower Fire, the state's largest fire, had consumed 8,500 acres as of Tuesday as it burned 21 miles south of Payson in the Tonto National Forest, the Republic said. It was 5 percent contained as of Tuesday.

The Elwood Fire, burning on the San Carlos Indian Reservation, scorched more than 1,500 acres as of Monday night and is 5 percent contained.

The Bull Flat Fire, which has destroyed 1,329 acres, is burning near the Canyon Creek Fish Hatchery on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. It was 45 percent contained as of Tuesday.

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