Winds fan wildfires in Arizona, New Mexico and S. California

Thursday, May 1st 2008, 4:38 pm
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

PHOENIX (AP) -- Three Texans were charged Thursday with starting a fire than has charred more than 2,000 acres near Grand Canyon National Park.

The three, two men and a woman, were camping Tuesday in the Kaibab National Forest on Tuesday when they allegedly left their campfire unattended, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Flagstaff. High winds sent embers into the nearby forest, quickly burning through more than 3 square miles of the forest.

They are each charged in a criminal complaint with four federal misdemeanor charges including leaving an unattended campfire and causing fire on federal land. They made an initial appearance in federal court on Thursday.

Despite winds above 30 mph Wednesday, crews kept it from growing significantly and it was 60 percent contained Thursday morning. Fire officials were hoping calmer winds would allow to completely contain the fire by late Thursday.

Meanwhile, a second straight day of fierce wind Thursday hampered firefighters battling a blaze that more than doubled in size within hours in central New Mexico's Manzano Mountains.

The fire had been 95 percent contained at 4,500 acres before a spot fire flared on the north side Wednesday afternoon and wind gusting to more than 50 mph drove the flames about 3 miles to the northeast.

By early Thursday morning, fire officials estimated the acreage at 11,368, or almost 18 square miles.

"We're pretty much going to have a carbon copy of yesterday again today," Peter D'Aquanni, a U.S. Forest Service public information officer, said Thursday.

About 400 to 500 residents of the small communities of Torreon and Tajique and surrounding areas were asked to evacuate, he said.

A couple of air tankers were dropping fire retardant on the blaze Thursday morning, when wind was already blowing at a sustained 30 mph, D'Aquanni said. The wind grounded a pair of helicopters that had been used to water on the blaze, he said.

The human-caused fire began April 15 in the Cibola National Forest. Strong wind fanned the fire April 20, sending it racing toward Manzano and Torreon before firefighters were able to catch it.

In Southern California, a 700-acre wildfire burned near for a third day in the San Bernardino National Forest near Mountain Center, about 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The fire that erupted Tuesday afternoon was 5 percent contained early Thursday, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lisa Duke said.

The blaze did not increase in size overnight as 40 mph wind gusts that had pushed it through dense brush a day earlier eased.

About 640 firefighters, aided by helicopters and aircraft, were fighting the fire in the San Jacinto Wilderness but had to hike several miles to reach the fire through steep, inaccessible terrain, Duke said.

No evacuations were called but the wilderness and Mount San Jacinto State Park were closed, along with the Pacific Crest Trail and several other hiking trails.

The nearest homes were about two miles away in Palm Springs.

The cause of the blaze had not been determined.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)