Arizona Wildfire Creeps Toward Evacuated Mountain Community

SAFFORD, Ariz. (AP) -- Crews fighting an 8,550-acre wildfire Tuesday wrapped aluminum around cabins in a small southeastern Arizona mountain community to deflect heat from the approaching blaze.

With the fire two miles away and headed toward Turkey Flat, officials said they believe dry conditions and high temperatures will push the blaze to move quickly, jump a protection line and reach the community of 74 cabins.

``We could very well lose some homes today or tomorrow,'' said Pruett Small, an operations chief for the fire management team.

The lightning-sparked Gibson fire and another 7,810-acre blaze prompted the evacuation of a $200 million-plus observatory and a total of about 90 cabins in Turkey Flat and another Mount Graham community on Friday.

Stronger protection lines will help keep the Mount Graham International Observatory safer, officials said.

While crews continued to protect the observatory, officials said Turkey Flat was their main concern Tuesday.

The second blaze was about two miles from the nearby community of Columbine. But officials said the Nuttall fire wasn't growing as rapidly and didn't have as much heavy forest fuels as the other blaze.

Firefighters were removing heavy vegetation around cabins in Turkey Flat Tuesday and began drenching homes with water using hoses placed in the area.

Officials said they planned to decrease the number of firefighters in Turkey Flat because of the fire danger, fearing that it would be difficult to evacuate them if the blaze makes a strong run.

``We're going to keep operations lean and simple today,'' Small said.

Authorities escorted some cabin owners Monday to Turkey Flat so they could collect belongings.

Richard Lines, 59, has owned his Turkey Flat cabin for the past 25 years. Although he's worried about his summer home, Lines said nothing is worth more than a human life.

``I don't want anyone's life put in jeopardy because of my cabin,'' he said. ``Everything is replaceable, but a life is not.''

The observatory encompasses eight buildings and 8 1/2 acres of pine forest on Mount Graham's 10,470-foot Emerald Peak. It is surrounded by a 200-foot-wide clearing and has a sprinkler system that officials said would be turned on if flames came within a quarter-mile.

Officials said even if the building doesn't burn, the smoke and heat could damage the delicate instruments inside.

Brent Wachter, a meteorologist in Albuquerque, N.M., said smoldering embers swept up in the unstable air around the wildfires threatened to complicate matters Tuesday.

``Just like bullets in a gun, they're going to go off,'' he said.

The U.S. Forest Service has sent tanker planes to help Arizona. The planes, former Navy P-3 Orions, arrived Sunday, two days after federal officials said the aircraft's private operator had demonstrated they are safe to fly, said Ken Frederick, a fire information officer.