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Arizona wildfire rises to 10 percent containment

June 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Firefighters are expressing their first real sense of hope in their battle against an enormous wildfire that has been burning in eastern Arizona since May.

Officials expect containment to rise to ten percent later Monday. Officials allowed roughly 7,000 residents to return home.

"Everything is holding," Fire Operations Chief Jerome Macdonald said. "Compared to what we've been dealing with just two days ago ... we're feeling a lot more confident. We turned a corner."

Macdonald said strong winds have actually helped firefighters as the gusts burned off fuel in the central part of the blaze before it reached their fire lines.

The 700-square-mile wildfire has been stuck at five or six percent containment for days. To guard against flare-ups, fire crews remained in the two communities where evacuation orders were lifted over the weekend.

While the blaze is about four miles away to two major power lines that bring electricity from Arizona to West Texas, Macdonald said firefighters were able to burn off most of the fuel in between, lessening the risk of disruption.

The fire still threatened the picturesque Arizona mountain towns of Alpine, Nutrioso and Greer, where officials said residents would likely not be allowed back in for up to five more days.

The small New Mexico town of Luna, just across the state line, also remained under threat. About 150 New Mexico National Guard soldiers were assisting crews with evacuations and security.

Nearly 4,300 people are working to bring the fire under control, and the blaze had so far cost about $27 million to fight.

Thirty-five homes and cabins have been destroyed since the fire began May 29. The wildfire is the second-largest in state history.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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