San Juan Fire Spreads To 5,000 Acres

By  KJZZ News
June 27, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Fort Apache Agency via InciWeb Incident Information System)

VERNON, Ariz. — The San Juan Wildfire has spread to 5,000 acres of forest in the White Mountains of northeast Arizona and is threatening 90 structures.

“The San Juan Fire is heading north-easterly into an area where the White Mountain Stewardship Project has been thinning and that will definitely help slow down any fire activity,” said Jim Zornes, Apache-Sitgreaves Nationals Forest Supervisor.

A new team of firefighters will take over against the San Juan Fire. This type-two team has access to more resources including tankers, a helicopter and nine hotshot crews.

The San Juan Wildfire has raced across at least 2,500 acres of forest in the White Mountains of northeast Arizona.

The blaze broke out Thursday afternoon northeast of the mountain community of McNary. The fire is now moving into untreated areas and steep terrain. National Forest Service Information Officer Pamela Baltimore said weather conditions will affect the crew.

“It just makes it tougher for the firefighters," Baltimore said. "The temperatures and the low humidity make the fire, you know, that more elevated.”

Authorities say residents in several communities near a wind-whipped wildfire in northeastern Arizona's White Mountains have been ordered to evacuate.

Apache County officials say the areas of Red Cabin Ranch, Greens Peak Hideaway and the Whiting Homestead were given mandatory evacuation orders Thursday night.

Officials did not say how many residents were affected. Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter spokesman Todd Tamcsin says the evacuated areas are primarily comprised of second homes.

Some residents of Vernon, a tiny town near the San Juan Fire, are ready to evacuate. People who live in Vernon have seen three wildfires move through the area since 1992. The Rodeo-Chedeski and Wallow fires consumed hundreds of thousands of acres. Now, the San Juan is being fueled by gusty winds that are pushing it through the pine trees that were not touched by the earlier fires.

Resident Mike Brady said he’s been busy helping his neighbors with their livestock.

“Horse trailers were lined up and down the roads here and my brother and I were helping to get the horses up into the trailers and get them out of the area," Brady said. "These were friends and family members from other areas who said they don’t worry about them. We’ll feed them and take care of them, when this is over and done come and get your horses.”

Brady lives about two miles away from the flames. He’s seen the damage from the Wallow and Rodeo-Chedeski wildfires that burned near his neighborhood a few years ago.

“We can stand here on our driveway and just see it burning over the ridge and coming down the mountains," Brady said. "So if they do not get this stopped and all of this burns, the White Mountains will all have burned, and it will all be gone."

Brady said he and his brother will take their families to stay with friends in nearby Show Low or Springerville if authorities require them to leave the fire zone.

The San Juan Fire has charred more than 3 square miles.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter for evacuees at a middle school in Eager but nobody was there Thursday night.

The National Weather Service in Flagstaff said winds were gusting up near 40 miles an hour most of Thursday afternoon, and that they only died down for a few hours overnight.

Meteorologist Ben Peterson said this will likely be the last windy day in the area for a while, but things will still be, "very dry, through at least Tuesday, and also starting Sunday, but especially Monday and Tuesday, it’ll be getting quite hot. Temperatures in that area will be rising to the 80s and into the lower 90s by Monday and Tuesday.”

The Associated Press and KJZZ reporters Rachel Lund, Nick Blumberg and Steve Shadley contributed to this report.

Updated 6/27/2014 at 6:22 p.m.