VERNON, Ariz. – A wildfire in eastern Arizona's White Mountains grew by about a square mile on Sunday, but the expansion followed successful burnout operations by crews that an official said was "fighting fire with fire."
The San Juan Fire has blackened nearly 9 square miles, up from nearly 8 square miles, but the flames are not spreading, Southwest Area Incident Management Team spokesman Bill Morse said Sunday evening.
All the growth is inside perimeter lines that firefighters have built, he said. The burnout operations have consumed fuels between the perimeter and the main fire on the western edge and may produce more smoke than had been seen.
"This is literally fighting fire with fire," Morse said, calling the western flank the "problem child."
The blaze is now 5 percent contained and the other edges of the fire are "very secure," he said.
Evacuations of about three dozen summer homes in the Red Cabin Ranch, Carlock Ranch and Whiting homestead areas remained in place because it was not yet safe to allow people back in their homes, Morse said. But there was no "imminent danger" to those structures, he said.
Authorities said Sunday that no buildings have burned, and no injuries have been reported.
Earlier Sunday, hundreds of firefighters dealt with hot, dry conditions as they built containment lines. But crews got a break from the winds that had whipped the flames in recent days.
"Right now, it's not hurting us. But it's not helping either," Hangan said of the weather.
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 blaze caused by lightning in northern New Mexico was putting up smoke Sunday afternoon that could be seen from as far away as Albuquerque. The 200-acre Diego Fire started earlier this week. Authorities said no structures were threatened, but structure protection crews have been requested.
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. Nearly 680 firefighters and other personnel were assigned to the blaze, along with two dozen engines, five helicopters, bulldozers and water tenders.
About 200 residents packed a community meeting Saturday evening, where incident commander Matt Reidy said forest thinning in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests helped firefighters establish anchor points from which to fight the flames.