Thousands flee their homes as crews battle in vain to contain worst wildfires in years

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The Independent US

More than 20,000 people have been evacuated from several Arizona towns as firefighters struggled unsuccessfully yesterday to contain some of the worst wildfires in years to rage across the American West.

More than 20,000 people have been evacuated from several Arizona towns as firefighters struggled unsuccessfully yesterday to contain some of the worst wildfires in years to rage across the American West.

The toughest task facing them is 125 miles north-east of Phoenix, where two large fires are believed to have merged into a 50-mile-long wall of flame. Its progress has been hastened by high winds and a long drought that has turned the West into a bone-dry tinderbox. "Nature's in control," a spokesman said, "She's dealing the hand."

In the past three days, some 250,000 acres have burned in Arizona alone. This weekend, 10,000 residents were evacuated from the town of Show Low, when the approaching blaze leapt over a hastily constructed firebreak, and sent a great cloud of smoke looming over the town.

Another 8,000 people have already been forced from their homes in nearby Linden, Clay Springs and Pinedale, where about 20 homes have been destroyed. In Linden, crews were spraying foam and wrapping abandoned houses in fireproof material in a last-ditch effort to protect them.

Wildfires are a summer fixture in the West. But this year they have started earlier and on a larger scale than usual. Fires are also raging in Colorado, California, New Mexico and Utah.

In southern Colorado, crews were fighting an unpredictable 67,000-acre fire that has already destroyed 45 homes, but prospects looked better for containing a larger blaze south of Denver, which no longer threatens the state capital.

Officials say most of the fires have been started by humans, either accidentally or through arson. In the case of the larger Colorado fire, a US Forest Service worker, Terry Barton, has pleaded not guilty to arson, but is being held on a $600,000 (£400,000) bond.

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