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Hundreds return home as wildfire dies down in E Arizona

06-13-2011 16:36 BJT

LOS ANGELES, June 12 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of residents were allowed to return home Sunday as a wildfire was dying down after ravaging eastern Arizona for more than 10 days, authorities said.

Officials reopened the twin towns of Springerville and Eagar five days after a wildfire evacuation.

Although the danger from flames abated in those two White Mountain communities, authorities warned that anyone returning will have to cope with smoke conditions that may be hazardous, especially for small children, the elderly and those with respiratory ailments, the Arizona Republic newspaper said on its web.

But an evacuation order remained effective for three other towns -- Alpine, Greer and Nutrioso, which were nearly surrounded by fire during the past week, the report said.

Residents in these towns may have to wait three to five days before the towns are safe for reopening, said Jerome MacDonald, section chief for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team.

The Wallow Fire, the second-largest blaze on record in Arizona, have blackened nearly 444,000 acres (179,820 hectares) of forest and grassland and destroyed about 35 structures, including 29 homes. Thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate their homes.

MacDonald said the blaze will surpass in size the Rodeo-Chediski Fire of 2002, which blackened almost 469,000 acres (189,945 hectares).

Fire crews managed to extend the containment of the fire from 6 percent on Saturday to 10 percent on Sunday, officials said.

An army of 4,311 firefighters and support workers are fighting the blaze, which was believed to be started by a campfire on May 29.

The fire blackened the sky over fire-stricken areas, causing serious pollution. Levels of tiny, sooty particles from the smoke in eastern Arizona were nearly 20 times the federal health standard in the past few days.

Air condition could get even worse on Sunday, said Mark Shaffer of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality

The microscopic particles, about 1/28 the width of a human hair, can get lodged in the lungs and cause serious health problems, both immediate and long-term, Shaffer said.

"Larger particles, you breathe in and you cough and it tends to get rid of it," he said, adding that the tiny particles get "very, very deep into your system and are very difficult to expel."

The fire also sent throat-burning smoke to neighboring states like Colorado and New Mexico, prompting local authorities to warn residents of potentially hazardous air quality over the weekend.

New Mexico officials were monitoring air quality and are advising residents to pay close attention to the conditions.

Officials said they may still need three to five days to bring the fire under control.

Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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