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Evacuations expand to 700 homes in Arizona wildfire

SUPERIOR, Ariz. — A wildfire burning through rugged country east of Phoenix prompted evacuation orders for more than 700 homes by Friday evening, with no reports of structures burning.

The human-caused fire in Tonto National Forest near Roosevelt Lake grew beyond 100 square miles (260 square kilometers). Officials said it was 42% contained and burning unchecked to the north and east.

A command team said crews are protecting structures in the Top of the World community and the Roosevelt area.

Gila County authorities ordered about 700 homes evacuated, including residents of the Roosevelt Lake area and terrain stretching south for a dozen miles, county spokesman Josh Beck said on Friday evening. He said there were no reports of structures burning as fire crews lit back-burns to contain the blaze.

Fire information officer Christa Sandler said evacuations were taken as a precautionary measure amid increased winds and low humidity.

Winds threatened to drive the fire toward Roosevelt.

“We wanted to make sure we gave the Roosevelt residents plenty of time to leave the area, gather their belongings and make sure they were safely out of the area for firefighters to do their jobs,” Sadler said.

More than 1,100 people are assigned to battle the fire and protect homes, businesses and cooper mines in the region.

Smoke from the massive blaze was blowing to the northeast and prompted health warnings in Gallup, New Mexico, nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) away, and far beyond.

The National Weather Service office in Albuquerque said to expect widespread reductions in visibility across large portions of western and central New Mexico because of the Arizona blaze.

The state health department warned people in Cibola County, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Las Vegas and nearby communities to keep their windows closed.

Fire officials warned residents traveling along U.S. Route 60 between Superior and Miami, Arizona, to be wary of increased fire truck traffic in the area.

A campground was closed east of a dam at Roosevelt Lake, along with some roads and Tonto National Monument, home to two 700-year-old cliff dwellings. Sadler said firefighters wrapped original wood components of the dwellings with a fire-resistant material.

The fire has been burning through heavy brush and some Pinyon pine. Sadler said it was moving into areas that transition to grassland, which could help firefighters.

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.

Tonto National Forest was the first agency in Arizona to implement fire restrictions earlier this month that limit campfires and smoking to developed areas. Others are following suit.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Colorado River District in western Arizona will be under the first stage of fire restrictions starting Friday.

Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management restrictions also start Friday and cover land in Gila, La Paz, Maricopa and Yuma counties, and Mohave County south of the Colorado River.