Wildfire forces evacuations in forest northeast of Phoenix (AZ)

A wildfire that broke out near a popular camping area in the mountains northeast of Phoenix forced officials to order evacuations of the small communities of Strawberry and Pine.

STRAWBERRY, Ariz. (AP) — A wildfire that broke out near a popular camping area in the mountains northeast of Phoenix forced officials to order evacuations of the small communities of Strawberry and Pine.

The Gila County Sheriff’s office ordered the town of Strawberry’s approximately 1,000 residents to leave Friday afternoon, along with the community of Hunts Ranch. Hours later, officials ordered evacuations of the town of Pine, which has about 2,000 people. An evacuation center was being set up in Payson.

The U.S. Forest Service said hot, dry and windy conditions are leading to extreme fire behavior.

The fire started shortly before midnight Wednesday, about 12 miles west of Strawberry near a ridge named Ike’s Backbone. It had burned more than 9 square miles (23 square kilometers) of pinyon pine, juniper and desert scrub as of Friday morning. It started near where Fossil Creek meets the Verde River.

The Coconino National Forest closed Fossil Creek, a popular spot for hiking and swimming, because of the wildfire.

The U.S. Forest Service assigned three helicopters to assist ground crews trying to stop the fire’s advance. Officials said the fire was caused by lightning.

Several other wildfires are burning in Arizona amid a period of intense heat across the U.S. Southwest. Residents near the largest wildfire that has burned nearly 275 square miles (712 square kilometers) in Pinal and Gila counties were in various stages of evacuation.

The blaze near the mining town of Globe about 90 miles (144 kilometers) southeast of Phoenix is already among the top 10 ever seen in the state. As of Friday morning, the blaze in the mountains 90 miles (144 kilometers) southeast of Phoenix has consumed 275 square miles (712 square kilometers) of brush and timber. Several small communities were under evacuation orders and others were under evacuation warnings.

The so-called Telegraph fire alone has consumed 52 structures but is more than 70% contained. Other smaller fires are burning as a heat wave that began early this week continues. The temperatures are so high that large aerial tankers can’t always fly. Severe drought has also dried up water sources helicopters would normally access to drop on the flames.

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