VERNON, Ariz. – Crews battling a wildfire in Arizona's eastern mountains are making headway with successful burnout operations, even as the blaze blackens more territory and sends up clouds of smoke.
Southwest Area Incident Management Team spokesman Bob Dyson said Monday morning that the San Juan Fire by late Sunday had charred nearly 9 square miles, up from nearly 8 square miles, as burnout operations consumed fuels within the fire perimeter.
Firefighters on Monday were taking advantage of winds from the northwest to conduct burnout operations and strengthen containment lines on the fire's western flank, using the winds "to blow the fire ... back onto itself," Dyson said.
Firefighters also are strengthening lines on the fires' other flanks, and Dyson said fire officials are telling residents "not to be concerned" by the large quantities of smoke from burnout operations.
Until the burnout operations are completed late Monday or Tuesday, "we're still not real secure," Dyson 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 smoky blaze caused by lightning in northern New Mexico jumped from 200 acres to 750 acres due to strong winds on Sunday, leading authorities to order small-scale evacuations.
Several homes were evacuated Sunday because of the Diego Fire burning in the Jemez Mountains about 7 miles southwest of Coyote, and several forest roads also have been closed.
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.