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Arizona wildfires force evacuations of rural communities

June 17, 2020 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Rural communities around Arizona were under evacuation orders Tuesday as wildfires raged in the mountains overlooking Tucson, outside metropolitan Phoenix and north of the Grand Canyon.

The fires have been fueled by hot temperatures, dry vegetation and winds, with no relief in sight.

Sheriff’s officials in southern Arizona’s Pima County went door-to-door to alert people in about 150 homes that they needed to leave immediately. The order applied to Mount Lemmon and Summerhaven, a heavily wooded community along a ridge, said sheriff’s Deputy Marissa Hernandez.

A shelter was set up at Sahuaro High School in Tucson.

The fire northwest of Tucson in the Catalina Mountains was burning in rugged terrain, sending smoke into surrounding communities. More than 700 people were battling the lightning-sparked blaze that had grown to nearly 23 square miles (59 square kilometers).

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It’s in the general area of one that scorched 132 square miles in 2003, destroying homes and businesses in Summerhaven.

In central Arizona, another wildfire prompted evacuations of four rural communities and closed parts of two state highways. Residents of Sunflower and Apache Lake were evacuated Tuesday, one day after the Gila County communities of Punkin Center and Tonto Basin, affecting at least 1,500 people, authorities said.

The fire was burning in Tonto National Forest near State Routes 87 and 188 between Phoenix and Payson.

Officials said the wildfire had grown to 101 square miles (262 square kilometers) from 59 square miles (153 square kilometers) late Monday.

Dee Hines, a spokesman for the fire management team, attributed some of the growth to more accurate data provided by infrared mapping.

“Fuels and terrain and wind have combined to make a worse-case scenario with this fire,” Hines said. “It is serious.”

No structures have been lost in any of the fires, and no injuries have been reported.

Residents of Jacob Lake, north of the Grand Canyon, remained evacuated because of a wildfire that has burned 46 square miles (120 square kilometers).

“It’s not like it’s immediately threatened, but it’s not out of danger,” said fire information spokesman Gerry Perry.

Access to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim also has been cut off as the fire burns near the only highway that leads to it.

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