Wildfires Smolder Across Dry, Drought-Stricken Southwest

Wildfires Smolder Across Dry, Drought-Stricken Southwest

(AP) -- A wildfire in Arizona that had neighboring New Mexico breathing in smoke was one of several blazes scorching the drought-stricken Southwest, signaling what could be a devastating summer.

Residents in New Mexico's largest city woke up Wednesday shrouded again in smoke from the Arizona fires. The yellow haze stretched up the Rio Grande Valley and obscured views of the mountain ranges surrounding Albuquerque.

Firefighters in Superior, Arizona, a former mining town about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Phoenix, however, made significant progress overnight on the so-called Telegraph Fire. They contained 21% of the fire's perimeter, up from zero the night before, officials said.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey plans to visit the area Thursday. He will take an aerial tour of the fire site and stop at a shelter. He previously issued an emergency declaration for that fire and another several miles east. The declaration will make up to $400,000 available for response efforts.

More than 750 firefighters conducted burnout operations through the night. Crews overseen by a top-tier management team focused on establishing a fire break along U.S. 60 and in the Pinal Mountains.

The blaze has burned more than 125 square miles (324 square kilometers) in Pinal and Gila counties. It was first reported Friday and is believed to be human-caused.

Thousands of residents have been stuck in various stages of the evacuation process. At least 2,500 homes in Gila County have been evacuated, with twice that number set to go with bags packed, according to county emergency officials. Hundreds more also were cleared from their homes in a community in Pinal County.

A second home near Globe-Miami that belonged to Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers was among those destroyed.

The fire also forced closures on most roads leading out of town. But U.S. 70 reopened Wednesday.

Besides enduring smoke from Arizona fires, New Mexico is dealing with its own blazes, including one that was sparked by lightning three weeks ago in the Gila National Forest in the western part of the state. It has charred more than 71 square miles (184 square kilometers) and has forced the closure of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and much of the surrounding wilderness.

Utah, mired in extreme drought, has multiple wildfires burning. The largest started Tuesday near the town of Price, according to fire officials.

The drought, coupled with rising temperatures, has led to widespread fire restrictions in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, including fireworks ahead of the July 4 holiday. Some northern Arizona agencies are tightening the restrictions this week to prohibit open fires and campfires. ___

Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.