One of three major wildfires burning in Arizona was declared fully contained Sunday, a second was nearly out, and a third was growing only in a rugged area with only a handful of residents.
Authorities said the Horseshoe Two wildfire near Portal in southeastern Arizona was completely surrounded after burning more than 348 square miles of the Chiricahua mountains in seven weeks. All evacuation orders have been lifted.
The huge blaze started May 8 and burned across one of the state’s so-called “sky island” mountain ranges, which rise from the surrounding desert and grasslands and aren’t connected to other ranges. The fire essentially burned the entire Chiricahua range, which is part of the Coronado National Forest.
The forest supports a huge diversity of plants and animals and is a world-renowned bird watching area. The blaze did only minimal damage to the most well-known birding area, Cave Creek Canyon.
“It’s fairly mosaic in much of the area, although when you look at the map it appears the whole Coronado forest burned,” fire information officer Jack Conner said. “Some areas did burn pretty intense, mainly in the bottoms of the gulches. But it is mosaic. It is a not a totally complete burn.”
The fire destroyed nine homes and 14 other buildings.
More than 400 firefighters were doing mop-up work Sunday, rehabilitating firebreaks and fixing cattle guards, Conner said. At one point, more than 1,500 firefighters were battling the flames.
A second fire near the southern Arizona city of Sierra Vista was 85 percent contained Sunday, and officials said the blaze was showing little activity as ground crews and helicopters were working to put out the rest of the fire. The Monument fire has burned nearly 47 square miles and destroyed 57 homes, a five-unit apartment building and five businesses.
At one point nearly 10,000 people were evacuated from areas south of the city, but the last were allowed to return home Friday night.
The 30,000-acre fire began June 12 and is believed to be human-caused.
Meanwhile, the largest forest fire in Arizona history continued to slowly chew though parts of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, although it was nearly 80 percent contained Sunday.
The 841-square-mile Wallow fire was officially 77 percent contained and growing slowing along its southeast perimeter. It too forced nearly 10,000 people to evacuate, but all but a handful are now back in their homes.
There are still more than 2,300 firefighters working on the blaze, which has burned 538,043 acres. About 15,400 acres of the burned area is in New Mexico.
The fire, which broke out May 29, destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins. It’s believed to have been caused by a campfire, and authorities say they’ve identified two people who may be responsible. However, officials had not named them as suspects or filed any criminal charges.
In New Mexico, a blaze northeast of Santa Fe had burned nearly 15 square miles of forest by Sunday morning.
The fire was just 10 percent contained after winds Saturday drove it into new areas. It has now burned more than 9,300 acres, although no structures have been lost and none was immediately threatened.
The wildfire began June 18 about 2 miles north of the Santa Fe Ski Basin. It’s burning in steep, rugged terrain and there’s no timetable yet for full containment.
Authorities said all of the fires were believed to be human-caused and remain under investigation.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is scheduled to tour wildfire-damaged areas in Arizona and New Mexico on Wednesday and meet with Forest Service staff.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.