Burnout Operations Protect Community in Path of Huge Arizona Wildfire

PHOENIX (AP) --Using fire to fight fire, crews said Saturday they had managed to protect a community that was in the path of the mammoth wildfire spreading through dry brush and grass in rugged central Arizona.

Thanks to successful burnout operations along the southwest flank of the Cave Creek Complex fire, any danger that the fire would reach Black Canyon City had been significantly diminished, fire officials said.

''Black Canyon City is very happy,'' said David Elkowitz, a spokesman for crews working the southern zone of the fire. ''The burnout yesterday was successful and it's looking a lot better.''

Fire crews had also successfully kept the fire from growing on the eastern side, closest to the communities of Pine and Strawberry, said Lew French, another firefighters' spokesman.

The total fire, which was being fought in two sections, covered 250,500 acres by Saturday evening, but French said much of new acreage growth was the result of fires set intentionally to deny the wildfire fuel.

The north end of the fire was considered 20 percent contained, while the south end was 50 percent contained.

Fire crews were also making headway putting a line around a finger of the fire that had spread to the north. Chris Papen, a spokesman for firefighters working in the northern zone, said burnout operations started Friday night and continued successfully Saturday.

''We're putting a lot of fire to ground,'' he said, adding that the majority of heavy smoke billowing into the sky was from the burnout operations.

''So far we've had a very good, safe operation,'' he said.

No communities were imminently threatened by the fire and no evacuation advisories had been issued, he said.

Southwesterly wind also helped to manage the fire and pushed smoke away from I-17, the main north-south route through central Arizona. The highway remained open and officials said that as long as the weather continued to cooperate, no closures would be necessary.

More than 1,655 people were fighting the fire.

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