Smoke from Arizona fire spreads to other states

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Satellite image of smoke from the Wallow Fire.
Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Smoke from eastern Arizona's Wallow Fire has drifted into New Mexico and Colorado, where officials have issued a health advisory. The wildfire in Arizona continued to burn Tuesday night when weather conditions settled down, although conditions will likely become worse Wednesday. Covering 365 square miles, the fire has created hazy conditions as far away as Iowa. Residents of small communities including Greer and Alpine have been warned to evacuate. The Wallow Fire is currently the nation's largest wildfire; another fire is burning in southern Arizona. So far, about 3,000 people have evacuated the area around the Wallow Fire.

Around 2,500 firefighters are working to combat the wildfire; around four buildings have burned so far while hundreds more are at risk. On Monday, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed a state of emergency declaration allowing access to special funds. High winds up to 60 MPH have been reported, allowing the fire to continue to move north. Joe Reinarz, the firefighting operation's commander, said, "The bad news is it's supposed to pick back up all the way through Thursday." U.S. Highway 180 was closed by officials for around two miles because of thick smoke obscuring drivers' visibility. The wildfire is decimating the ponderosa pine forest in the area; Kelly Wood, a Pinetop Fire Department spokesperson, said, "Normally, you can see the forest for miles. Now, there’s just smoke."

The large amounts of smoke have started to take a toll on area residents. Director of the local White Mountain Regional Medical Center Jerry Campeau said, "It’s very irritating. The first symptom is sinus pain. Then the throat gets irritated, sometimes so badly you can cough up blood. When you start to have tightness in the chest, then it’s serious." Patients have been taken away by road, as the smoke prevented any air transportation. The blaze began May 29 in the Bear Wallow area and has become the second largest in Arizona's history. National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin said a large area of high pressure was causing smoke to be blown eastward. He said, "These fires have been going pretty good for the last four to six days, and with the dry conditions, they’re burning hot right now."