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Seeley Fire tops 33,000 acres, cost at $2.5 million

The scenic back-country is going to be 'a different place' Sheriff James Cordova told listeners at Monday's briefing.

By JOHN SERFUSTINI
Sun Advocate associate editor

"She's angry and I haven't seen her getting any happier," said Sheriff James Cordova as he spoke of Mother Nature and her role in the Seeley Fire.

Drought has parched the forests, shifting winds tend to push the fire in all directions and there's still a probability of dry thunderstorms to complicate matters further.

Cordova was taking part in another public briefing on the battle against the fire Monday night, and the news was not cheerful about the scenic and serene canyons charred by the blaze.

"When you see these areas, you're going to see a different place," the sheriff said, "but there will be brighter days at the end."

There is some light shining through all the smoke, though. The Eastern Arizona Incident Management Team reported that as of Tuesday afternoon there were still no structures lost.

Considering that these "structures" range from cabins at boat camps to multimillion-dollar electric transmission lines, natural gas production facilities and coal mines, that's upbeat news.

As the fire expanded to more than 33,000 acres, the fire fighting force grew to 539 members, including 11 hand crews of 20 persons each, eight helicopters, 14 water tenders and 22 engines.

On Monday, the team began fighting fire with fire, aerially igniting a cordon of backfires to keep spot fires from breaking out.

Tom Goheen of the team's planning operations explained that the backfires have to be lit to halt the spread of airborne ash and embers. As dry as conditions are, more than 90 percent of the embers hitting a fuel source are igniting it. Usually 15 percent is expected.

Out of the past 40 years of his career, Goheen has spent all but two Independence Days fighting fires.

He said this is a bad as he's ever seen fire conditions.

The fire is staying in the higher elevations and is also burning mainly on the north slopes of the canyons where the tall trees are, Goheen said. It is not spreading through the sagebrush or grass at the lower elevations and on the sun-facing aspects.

Commissioner Mike Milovich warned the crowd at the briefing that there have been reports of people driving four-wheelers through the back country, "trying to get up close and personal with the fire." He urged the audience to do what they could to discourage friends from taking the risk. "Somebody's going to get hurt," he said.

All roads heading westbound into the fire zone remained closed to all except permitted traffic.

Mine workers at the Horizon and Skyline operations were being allowed past the checkpoints.




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