Indians Count Cost of Arizona Blaze
SHOW LOW, Ariz. (Reuters) - As firefighters made strides combating a monster Arizona wildfire, there were sighs of relief on Thursday in the mountain town of Show Low, which officials now expect to survive one of the most destructive blazes ever to scorch the U.S. West.
Not far away, however, on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation, there was nothing but bad news.
Local Apaches, who have lived in the eastern Arizona high country for hundreds of years, say the fire has already devastated their economy, incinerating the forests they log for timber and shutting down tourism.
"There goes our food. There go our car payments. There go our truck payments. How to rebound from it I do not know," Andrew Kinney, a tribal spokesman, said Thursday.
The giant wildfire, which started eight days ago, has grown to a total of 417,000 acres -- or 650 square miles, blasting an area twice the size of the city of New York and extending its perimeter to cover some 200 miles.
An estimated 30,000 people have been forced to flee the fire zone, while at least 423 homes have been destroyed in this picturesque area about 150 miles of Phoenix.
Officials said Thursday that the fire -- which for days appeared poised to sweep over the town of Show Low -- would probably be kept at bay after firefighting teams carved huge fire breaks into the dense and dry underbrush.
"Today, as things are right now in Show Low and the northeast part of the fire, everything is fine," Jim Paxon, the chief fire spokesman, said Thursday.
But officials said they remained concern about activity along the fire's western edge, where forecasts of dry lightning, thunderstorms and gusty wind could further fan flames moving through a region studded with forested ravines thick with dry underbrush.
APACHES SEE FUTURE BURN
For the Apaches of the White Mountain tribe, the disaster has already struck.
The community, which numbers some 17,000, includes a number of small towns about 15 miles (24 km) south of Show Low. While no homes on the reservation have been destroyed, the wildfire's path took it through stands of timber which have long been the economic mainstay for their logging economy.
Kinney said the fire had already destroyed at least $200 million worth of timber, which represents about 40 percent of the tribe's annual revenues.
Forestry experts say it could take more than 100 years before the local woodlands recover.
With tribal lumber mills threatened with closure, the tribe is also losing other sources of revenue. The tribe's hotel, convention center and casino have closed, while tourism has dried up -- leaving Apache businesses which offer everything from elk hunts to fishing and camping trips without customers.
Faced with an economic crisis, Kinney said the tribe was preparing to follow the path of the fire, seeking to salvage as much salable timber from reservation lands as they can.
But he said the future looked bleak for many tribal members, some of whom already survive on monthly incomes of less than $1,000. "I guarantee we will all be affected by this. We look up to this forest as our major resource," Kinney said.
MORE MISERY AHEAD
The misery faced by the White Mountain Apache could be a foretaste of economic hardships visited on other rural U.S. communities as the nation's summer fire season gets off to a fierce and early start.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, extreme fire conditions exist in California, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah in addition to Arizona and Colorado. There are more than 2.6 million acres burning nationwide, about triple the 10-year average of 846,309 acres.
Firefighters in southwest Colorado braced for what was expected to be a tough day on the fire line with threats of dry lightning in the forecast.
Near the southwestern city of Durango, the Missionary Ridge fire and another much smaller blaze a few miles apart, the Valley fire, have not merged but were being treated as one system for fire fighting purposes, fire information officer Roger Condie said.
The two fires have consumed 70,812 acres and the double-blaze, which has destroyed 51 homes, is 30 percent contained.
In southern California, meanwhile, the main highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas was closed for almost 12 hours by a wildfire that scorched 6,700 acres of brush, destroyed three homes and briefly cutting power to about half a million homes.
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