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Cedar Creek community prepares as wildfire burns another 10k acres

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Cedar Creek community prepares as wildfire burns another 10k acres

  • Firefighters take advantage of cooler temperatures at night to use 'dip torches' to burn the ground and starve the Cedar Fire of fuel early Monday morning.
    Southwest Incident Management Team/Fort Apache FireFirefighters take advantage of cooler temperatures at night to use 'dip torches' to burn the ground and starve the Cedar Fire of fuel early Monday morning.

Low humidity and high temperatures continued through Tuesday, helping the Cedar Fire consume another 10,000 acres, southwest of Pinetop-Lakeside in Arizona's white mountains. 

Beginning last Wednesday, the fire has destroyed more than 37,500 acres of brush and woodlands, but firefighters have managed to blunt the fire's northern advance and have kept it from crossing over Highway 60 by carving out fire lines and conducting back burns to starve the fire of fuel to advance. 

On Sunday, the fire made a run southward burning through thousands of acres, stopping just two miles north of the Cedar Creek community and Highway 73. Crews continue to work on the southern front to blunt the fire's advance where it continues to burn in sparse vegetation. 

According to Inciweb, a fire incident tracking system, the fire's perimeter extends directly south and east of Highway 60 across the boundary between Gila and Navajo counties. The fire's eastern growth slowed after it crossed over the Cedar Creek drainage on Monday. 

Fire officials said that the northern edge of the fire remains fairly quiet after burnout operations were conducted at strategic locations along the western edge and along a reservation road in the Middle Creek drainage. Firefighters are using a burned area from the 2015 Playground Fire as a fuel break, officials said. 

Officials said that for the next 12 hours, they expect the fire to grow along the south and southeast flanks and consume another 2,500 acres, with additional growth of 5,500 acres expected over the next three days. 

Fire activity may lessen through Tuesday as the temperatures lower and humidity rises slightly, officials said. While there is a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms, officials said that temperatures will remain three to five degrees above average. 

While increasing moisture could have a "cooling, moderating effect" on the fire, officials warned that storms could bring gusty, erratic winds that could encourage fire growth. They also said that isolated islands of unburned vegetation within the fire's perimeter could burn on Tuesday. 

Fire officials warned the public to keep drones out of the area, saying that unmanned aircraft could comprise the safety of aerial firefighting efforts. 

"This incident is making heavy use of aerial firefighting resources, such as air attack aircraft, lead planes, airtankers, and helicopters," officials said. "Safety depends on knowing what other aircraft are operating in the airspace and where they are at all times." 

If a drone was spotted, fire managers could suspend the flights of air tankers, helicopters and spotter planes until they were certain the drone had left and would not return. 

"The bottom line is that 'if you fly, we can't," officials said. The area over the Cedar Fire is under a temporary flight restriction making it illegal to fly a drone at any altitude within the area. 

Residents of Cedar Creek were given a pre-evacuation notice Monday, and officials announced that people who wished to evacuate on Monday could retreat to Eagar Round Valley Dome or Snowflake High School. However, the shelter at Snowflake High School will be moved Tuesday to Holbrook, about 29 miles north, officials said. 

Those with animals can take livestock to the Taylor Rodeo Grounds or the Holbrook Fair Grounds, while small animals, including dogs and cats, can be taken to Eagar Animal Control. 

Firefighters were in Cedar Creek to consider how to protect the community, and staging supplies to protect houses and businesses in the area, and crews staffed the area Monday night and will continue through Tuesday, officials said. 

Incident managers will hold a public meeting at the Show Low City Hall at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday night to brief the public on current efforts. 

Officials said they were working closely with White Mountain Apache Tribal police and tribal leadership to keep community members up to date of the fire's movements and were working closely with tribal representatives to protect cultural resources on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. 

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