SAFFORD, Ariz. – A handful of the residents evacuated from nearly 100 homes threatened by wildfires (search) were allowed back into their communities Monday to survey the damage, officials said.
About 10 residents anxious to tour charred areas of Mount Graham were being escorted by U.S. Forest Service (search) officials and sheriff's deputies, said forest service spokesman Sam Whitted. The group was to report their findings to the other homeowners, he said.
Firefighters have said none of the homes were burned down but there may be minor damage to some of the houses and property.
Fire managers said they did not know when all of the families forced to flee Turkey Flat's 74 cabins and Columbine's 15 cabins would be allowed to return for good.
The burn site includes one of two springs that feed Turkey Flat's water system, said Gene Robert Larson, who planned to take water samples and check for contamination.
"We are going to assess the damage on our water system to see if we have enough money to repair it," Larson said.
The biggest fires on the mountain, the lightning-sparked Nuttall and Gibson fires, had joined but were 55 percent contained Sunday, firefighters said. They have burned 29,200 acres on Mount Graham since they began in late June.
The fires also threatened the Mount Graham International Observatory (search), home of some of the world's most advanced telescopes, but firefighters so far have successfully protected it.
Since the fires started, firefighters have removed some of the dense vegetation around the mountaintop cabins. But cabin owners worried that the remaining trees and brush still could fuel future fires, said Richard Lines, who has owned two cabins in Turkey Flat for 25 years.
"We just have way too much fuel buildup and we are just waiting to explode," Lines said Sunday. "The mountain has been patient way too long. It is not going to wait another five to 10 years for us to study the situation."
Crews battling the blazes planned to target the wildfire's southern and eastern boundaries Monday and continue efforts around Turkey Flat and Columbine, said Greg Tedder, a spokesman for the team fighting the fire.
"We've got still extremely dry fuels in the areas, and the steep and rugged terrain is causing problems for the crews," Tedder said.