Arizona Wildfire Reaches 152,000 Acres

PHOENIX (AP) -- A lightning-sparked fire had grown to 152,000 acres by Wednesday as it continued to push into central Arizona. Firefighters planned to make a stand to keep the fire from growing any closer to the small communities of Pine and Strawberry.

No evacuations have been ordered, and Tom Berglund, a spokesman for the firefighters, said the Cave Creek Complex fire was about 20 miles southwest of Pine and Strawberry and 12 miles from the point when evacuations may be necessary.

If the fire crosses the Verde River, authorities say it could push into a canyon and race into the towns of less than 5,000 year-round residents.

The fire hadn't crossed the river early Wednesday, said fire spokesman Vinnie Picard, but there is concern since the ponderosa pine forest surrounding the towns has been hard hit by tree-killing beetles in recent years.

Picard said the threat of wildfires is something residents of Pine and Strawberry, located about 100 miles northeast of Phoenix, are getting used to having around.

Last year, the lightning-sparked Willow fire burned in nearby Payson for nearly a month. It charred 119,500 acres, making it the second-largest fire in Arizona history until the Cave Creek Complex fire surpassed it this week.

''This is an issue they seem to be dealing with a lot up there,'' Picard said. ''But it's hard to stay calm, cool and collected when the sky is filled with smoke and they have ash covering their property.''

In her weekly briefing with reporters, Gov. Janet Napolitano said the Cave Creek Complex fire ''remains the most worrisome fire that we've got in the state right now.''

About 860 people fought the fire, which is 20 percent contained. The fire had been 25 percent contained but it grew Tuesday in windy weather and the containment lines didn't grow with it, Berglund said. Crews expected lower winds Wednesday.

On the fire's western flank, firefighters held the flames at bay on a road between it and Black Canyon City, Berglund said.

''Our operations people are pretty positive,'' Berglund said.

He said crews had set fires in the area to burn away vegetation that could fuel the fire and planned to do more if the weather was right.

The fire began as two lightning-sparked fires on June 21 near Cave Creek and within days had merged and forced the evacuations of some 250 homes northeast of Phoenix. Eleven homes and three storage sheds were destroyed in that area before the fire moved on.

Meanwhile, the Three Complex fire burning near Roosevelt Dam remained at 19,370 acres and was 75 percent contained Wednesday with full containment expected Thursday.

A line had already been built around the blaze and firefighters mopped up the fire and patrolled the lines Tuesday, especially in the northern flanks about 5 miles away from the Punkin Center and Tonto Basin areas. No structures were threatened.

Officials said all recreation facilities within the Roosevelt Lake and Apache Lake recreation areas should be reopened to the public for the holiday weekend.