Arizona Residents Express Gratitude, Anger, Concern Over Wildfires

SAFFORD, Ariz. (AP) -- Mount Graham residents hoped for the best and prepared for the worst as one of two wind-whipped wildfires edged closer to cabins there.

At a meeting with fire officials Monday night in nearby Safford, community members expressed gratitude toward firefighters, anger with environmentalists and concern for their summer cabins.

Shenoa Greywolf of Safford said the mountain is sacred to her and her husband, who are both Native Americans.

``I'm crying and praying everyday,'' she said. ``Mount Graham is my backyard.''

The lightning-sparked Gibson fire had grown to 8,550 acres by Monday. The nearby Nuttall blaze was at 7,810 acres.

The two fires prompted the evacuation of a $200 million-plus observatory and about 90 cabins from two communities on the mountain Friday.

Strong winds and dry conditions Monday started pushing the Gibson fire south toward the community of Turkey Flat, which has 74 cabins. Fire officials said flames could reach the community by Tuesday.

Greywolf said her husband is a medicine man and uses plants on the mountain to heal elders who live nearby.

``Fire is burning the plants and they won't come back,'' she said. ``Some of our elders won't go to doctors, so we're going to have a lot of people getting sick.''

Others at the meeting disagreed with the way fire officials have handled the Gibson blaze. One of them was Walt Friauf, who was in charge of fire management in Graham County from 1972 to 1989.

``They did not aggressively attack the fire after it started,'' he said. Some at the meeting blamed environmentalists for stopping tree removal on the mountain.

``We used to take out old trees and we never had big fires,'' said Eden resident Rex Owens. ``Then we got the tree huggers and squirrel lovers in here.''

Oltrogge tried to calm the community's fears, but he was frank.

``We're a long way from having these contained,'' he said. ``You're going to see that smoke for a long, long time.''