Firefighters in Arizona were fighting Tuesday to gain a foothold into a massive wildfire, one of two that has forced thousands of evacuations in rural towns and closed almost every major highway out of the area.
The Telegraph Fire is now the ninth largest wildfire in state history, according to Dean McAlister, a spokesperson for the incident command center for the fire in Apache Junction.
The fire burned 76,260 acres and was 18% contained as of Tuesday night, according to an update from Inciweb.
Fire crews working on the Telegraph Fire are mainly using the 2017 Pinal Fire burn scar, as well as some “control features,” to prevent further eastward progress of the fire, McAlister said.
“At night, our goal is to bring the fire — when there’s no wind — is to bring it down, to create a buffer, which is when the main fire burns into it and it settles down,” McAlister said.
The fire destroyed the family cabin of Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, adding him to the growing list of property owners devastated by the wildfire sweeping through southern Gila County.
Bowers learned of the cabin’s loss Monday afternoon, hours after a contentious House session where Republicans failed to pass a nearly $2 billion tax cut and after a meeting with Gov. Doug Ducey. Among other things, Ducey and Bowers talked about fire suppression and wildfire prevention.
Bowers, R-Mesa, in comments Monday to ABC15 News Arizona, said his family was at the cabin Saturday as the fire was growing, but didn’t stay long.
“We took off,” Bower said, adding they bundled up what they could. They tried to return Sunday, but the head ranger from the Globe Fire District warned them off, saying there was too much risk of being trapped by the growing fire.
There are multiple factors making the fire crews’ job difficult: afternoon winds in the 30 mph range, daytime temperatures in the mid-90s, and “steep, rocky terrain,” which is “conducive to fire,” McAlister said.
While the winds this weekend are supposed to taper off, temperatures are supposed to increase about 10 degrees, which makes it “more difficult to fight the fires because of the hydration issues of the firefighters,” McAlister said.
The Telegraph Fire was likely caused by people but is still under investigation.
Several miles east of the wildfire, the smaller Mescal Fire was at 23% containment Tuesday. Fire officials lifted evacuation orders for residents of the community of San Carlos and in the areas of Soda Canyon and Coyote Flats. But the community of East El Capitan was still on mandatory evacuation.
The fire has burned nearly 105 square miles (13 square kilometers) – mostly desert brush, oak and grass. It was first reported June 2 southeast of Globe.
The cause is still under investigation.
Meanwhile, in northern Arizona a much smaller wildfire closed a stretch of U.S. Highway 180 on Tuesday. The fire, only 2 square miles (5 square kilometers), was reported Monday 23 miles (37 kilometers) northwest of Flagstaff. The cause is unknown.
Contributing: Rafael Carranza and Amaris Encinas, Arizona Republic; The Associated Press.