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Show Low Evacuees Allowed to Return

Thousands of Show Low residents on Saturday were finally allowed to return to their homes, which had been threatened for more than a week by a 447,000-acre wildfire. 

Authorities also gave the go ahead to evacuated residents of neighboring Pinetop-Lakeside and Hon-Dah and to small towns just west of Show Low that were hard-hit by the blaze.

Firefighters had contained about 25 percent of the fire, which destroyed at least 423 homes. But it continued to burn out of control elsewhere.

Crews worked Saturday to keep flames from bursting out of steep canyons and entering Forest Lakes, a subdivision of 600 homes some 40 miles west of mountain town of Show Low.

"We're on edge," fire spokesman Jim Paxon said of the situation around Forest Lakes.

Forest Lakes sits on a plateau above steep canyons. Flames pushed out of one of the canyons during the night and started several spot fires beyond a containment line, Paxon said. Firefighters extinguished all of the spot fires.

The fire had burned to within less than a half mile of the western edge of Show Low, and a week ago authorities were certain a wall of flame would roar through town. The city's 7,700 residents were ordered evacuated on June 22.

In all, more than 25,000 people were allowed back, out of the 30,000 evacuated from nine communities.

After a week away, the first thing Dianne Wentzloff did was feed her fish.

She had expected her white, ranch-style house to be covered with red fire retardant, but it didn't have a scratch or a fleck of retardant. The American flag she forgot to remove still hung near the front door.

"I didn't care. But it's in beautiful shape," she said, smiling.

One of the returnees was James Muzrall, 55, who found his home in Linden intact. The fire had stayed about a mile away, he said.

"I'm surprised and I'm blessed. I didn't think I was going to see it again."

Residents of areas farther west of Show Low, including Heber-Overgaard, where more than 200 homes burned, were still among the 3,500 to 4,000 people under orders to stay out.

Minnie Algeo of Heber-Overgaard wasn't sure Saturday whether her home had survived. 

"I hope I'll be home for my 90th birthday. It's in November," Algeo said at a shelter in Holbrook.

West from Show Low, the highway to hard-hit Heber-Overgaard was marked by strips of road turned copper-red from fire retardant. The landscape included black skeletons of pine trees, soot-covered wedding china and a charred saguaro cactus sculpture made of beer and pop cans. Scarred metal, springs and melted tires are all that remain of a Volvo.

"This thing was rockin' and rollin' when it came through here," fire information officer Dick Fleischman said of the fire, which charred hundreds of homes and vast stands of timber. "This place never had a chance."

Carlos Carrizosa retired last week and his wife was supposed to retire Friday. The couple planned to move into their home in Timberland Acres, a square mile of log cabins, trailers and ranch-style houses. Their home was reduced to a scarred one-acre patch. Now, retirement is on hold.

"We were going to come here, and now we have nothing to come to," Irene Carrizosa said.

In Colorado, a more than 71,000-acre fire north of Durango was threatening 152 homes and 206 other buildings Saturday, down more than 1,000 homes late Thursday, information officer Bill Hayes said.

The fire had destroyed 56 homes. While most of the fire was burning northeast toward wilderness, fire crews focused on stemming its southwest spread toward Durango and its 15,000 residents. The fire was about three miles away.

In Wrightwood, Calif., firefighters were closing in on a blaze that destroyed four homes and burned across more than 6,500 acres about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

The blaze, started by a car fire Wednesday on Interstate 15, was 80 percent contained late Friday night and could be surrounded by Saturday evening if wind remains calm, said Pat Boss, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

The fire temporarily knocked out power to nearly 500,000 homes and businesses and destroyed a total of six structures but caused no injuries. It also closed Interstate 15, the main road between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, until Thursday morning.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.