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Critical Day For Arizona Fire Crews; Power Lines To Other States In Danger

Kay Dyson covers her face to protect from smoke in Springerville, Ariz., earlier today (June 8, 2011).
Kay Dyson covers her face to protect from smoke in Springerville, Ariz., earlier today (June 8, 2011).

Wind gusts of 35 mph or more and timber that has less moisture than what you'd get if you bought kiln-dried lumber at your local hardware store are combining to make this a critical day for the several thousand firefighters battling the huge wildfire in northeast Arizona.

Fortunately, information officer Peter Frenzen told our Newscast Desk from the scene, "the people of this area ... are well aware of the hazards" and most had evacuated even before the order went out to do that.

No deaths related to the more than a week-old fires have been reported so far.

The Arizona Republic writes this hour that the fire crews "face another day of winds and low humidity Wednesday, a day after the blaze continued its relentless advance and forced the evacuation of a major part of Eagar amid rolling power outages and reports of gasoline shortages. ... The fire, growing by the hour, leaped farther north Tuesday and has now consumed about 389,000 acres, with at least 11 structures burned and 588 more threatened by the flames."

Is is "the No. 1 firefighting priority in the nation," according to the Republic., which has an interactive graphic on the fires posted here.

And the inferno are affecting other places. Not only has smoke now been detected as far north as Wyoming and as far east as Georgia, but:

Bloomberg News says that the fire "is on track to reach within three days high-voltage links that deliver 40 percent of the power used by 371,000 homes and businesses in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, Teresa Souza, a spokeswoman for the El Paso, Texas- based utility owner said today in an interview."

All Things Considered is set to have more on the situation later when it speaks with information officer Jim Wilkins at the scene. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the interview to this post.

Update at 3:15 p.m. ET. From That Conversation WithAll Things Considered:

Wilkins told host Melissa Block that because of the dryness and the high winds, "the burning conditions here are as volatile as any of the firefighters remember seeing."

He said that the winds are blowing embers as far as three miles, and that when those embers hit the ground there's "a 98 percent chance of starting a fire." That's one reason why there's still "zero percent containment," he said.

And the winds and dense smoke have made fighting the flames from above, with water from tanker planes, very difficult. At times, "we've been socked in" and unable to put such planes in the air, Wilkins said.

Update at 8:09 p.m. ET. Evacuations Extended North:

The Arizona Republic writes that as the fire continues to burn unconfined, officials decided to evacuate all of Eagar and Springerville, towns that sit just north of Arizona 260. The area south of the highway had been asked to evacuate, yesterday. The paper adds:

Fire officials had said earlier Wednesday they didn't feel confident enough that any of the defensive lines would hold, for them to declare containment on any part of the massive blaze. A spokesman the priority Wednesday was to quickly put out spot fires touched off by flying embers. If they could do that, "then we'll feel pretty good about the day," he said.

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