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Crews continued progress against Arizona wildfire
First Published Jul 01 2014 05:36 pm • Last Updated Jul 01 2014 05:36 pm

Vernon, Ariz. » Crews battling a wildfire in eastern Arizona’s White Mountains continued making headway with successful burnout operations to rob the nearly 9-square-mile blaze of brittle brush that could feed the flames in the moisture-sapped state.

Firefighters were taking advantage of winds from the northwest for the burnout operations within the containment lines on the western flank of the San Juan Fire. In nearby New Mexico, a smoky wildfire got five times bigger Monday as both states cope with high fire danger and drought that’s also gripped much of the West.

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"There’s a lot of smoke, but it’s normal," Margaret Hangan, a spokeswoman with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, said of the human-caused Arizona blaze that has been burning since last Thursday.

She said the winds were blowing the fire back onto itself to burn off more of the fuel. The eastern and northern flanks "are looking great" and crews "are pretty much in a mop-up," Hangan said.

Evacuations of about three dozen summer homes in the Red Cabin Ranch, Carlock Ranch and Whiting homestead areas remained in place.

Arizona and neighboring New Mexico, where fire danger also remains high, have been waiting for monsoon season to develop and bring with it much-needed moisture. Large portions of both states have been dealing with severe to extreme drought.

Fire managers working a 2-week-old blaze on the Navajo Reservation near the Arizona-New Mexico line said Sunday that smoke from pockets of unburned fuel within the interior of that fire will likely continue until the area gets significant rain.

It was the same on the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, where crews have been managing a lightning-sparked fire that has blackened more than 16 square miles since being spotted June 17. They are using flames from the Oak Fire to improve forest conditions and acknowledge it will continue to smolder until the rains come.

Another lightning-caused blaze in northern New Mexico grew to more than a square mile, making it five times larger than it was Sunday. It’s unclear if any homes or other structures were immediately threatened.

The Diego Fire burning in the Jemez Mountains sent up smoke that could be seen as far away as Albuquerque, some 80 miles to the south.

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Crews were being released from the fire on the Navajo Reservation so they could help with other fires in the West, while the team battling the San Juan Fire in Arizona was growing.

Incident commander Matt Reidy said at a packed a community meeting Saturday that forest thinning in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests helped firefighters establish anchor points from which to fight the flames.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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