SUPERIOR — About 250 homes near the Pinal/Gila County line are under evacuation orders because of a wildfire.
Measures are also being taken to protect the 700-year-old cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument near Roosevelt Lake. Firefighters from Casa Grande and Flagstaff have been placing fire protective cover to protect areas from airborne burning embers. Earlier in the week Eloy firefighters were also working at the ruins.
The human-caused wildfire in the Tonto National Forest has grown to nearly 79 square miles. It is 41% contained.
Michael Wobser, fire marshal for the Casa Grande Fire Department, said the agency has two firefighters and one vehicle assigned to the fire. He added the crew has been deployed about a week and will assist with incident management as well as fighting the fire.
The deployment won’t hamper the department’s ability to provide fire coverage for the city. Wobser said the department prepares for crews being called out to fight wildfires this time of year. He added the 700 to 800 personnel fighting the fire includes a combination of departments from around the state.
“We definitely prepare for the worst and being able to go out and asset with them and make sure it doesn’t affect the level of service here in Casa Grande,” Wobser said.
Meanwhile, Kelly Weddle, assistant fire chief of the Eloy Fire District, said he had five firefighters deployed to battle the blaze, including four people on the department’s brush truck.
“We have wildland teams that we belong to. The Pinal County wildland team gets dispatched anywhere in the state and the western United States every year, so it’s a part of our operational procedures,” he said.
Weddle added that in order to ensure adequate fire coverage, he’s had other firefighters picking up overtime to ensure there are no gaps in coverage.
Firefighters battling the Woodbury Fire were being challenged Thursday by gusty winds, low humidity, high temperatures and the terrain.
The evacuated homes are in clusters within a 12-mile radius of Roosevelt Lake. Residents were given a heads-up Wednesday to prepare to evacuate and given the order to leave Thursday. The fire is several miles away from the homes, Gila County spokesman Josh Beck said.
"It wasn't so much of an imminent threat as it was because of the high winds and extremely low humidity," he said.
A shelter for residents and small pets has been set up at Lee Kornegay Intermediate School in the Gila County town of Miami. Livestock can be taken to the Gila County Fairgrounds in Globe.
The wildfire made a major run through a canyon in the predawn hours Thursday, driving up the size.
Firefighters are focused on the north and northwest corner of the fire that is within a mile of a school of natural healing and about 5 miles from the nearest copper mine. Firefighters burned a ring around the school to better protect it and reinforced existing barriers around a handful of mine sites, fire Information Officer Christa Sadler said.
A campground east of the dam that holds back the lake is closed, along with some roads and Tonto National Monument.
The fire is burning in what's typically the driest time of the year before the onset of heavy rain during the monsoon season. The amount of precipitation over the winter and spring otherwise has been above-normal in most areas.
The Tonto National Forest was the first agency in Arizona to implement fire restrictions that limit campfires and smoking to developed areas earlier this month because of the wildfire. Others are following suit.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Colorado River District in western Arizona was to be under the first stage of fire restrictions starting Friday. Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management restrictions also were to start Friday and cover land in Gila, La Paz, Maricopa and Yuma counties, and Mohave County south of the Colorado River.