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Arizona wildfire prompts mixed signals on visiting fire area

Authorities in east-central Arizona's White Mountains are sending mixed messages on whether visitors should avoid the area because of a wildfire threatening several communities with thousands of residents.

The fire's progress toward Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside was halted about a quarter-mile short of so-called trigger points that would prompt evacuations, but officials said Friday the fire remains a danger.

John Pierson, head of the top-tier fire management team assigned to the blaze, said the weather "is somewhat cooperating" with diminishing winds. However, hot and dry weather is parching vegetation that could fuel the fire, he said.

During a briefing in Show Low, Navajo County spokesman Adam Wolfe cited progress made in fighting the fire but said people should postpone or cancel their plans to visit the area because pre-evacuation advisories remain effect.

"Please postpone or cancel. It is still a dangerous situation," Wolfe said.

Show Low Mayor Daryl Seymore said later during the same briefing that businesses remain open and that people already planning to visit the area should still visit. A representative of the White Mountain Apache Tribe said recreation areas on the tribe's reservation are open for business and located many miles from where the fire is burning elsewhere on the reservation.

"We're not asking people not to come to our mountains," Seymore said. "We encourage you to still come to the White Mountains."

Seymore also said, "We have businesses that are open, and we want to support those places on the mountain."

A Friday update on the fire burning approximately nine miles southwest of Show Low puts its size at nearly 15 square miles, including thousands of acres set on fire by fire crews to deprive the fire of fuel.

Approximately 650 personnel are assigned to the fire. Much of the fire is burning in terrain too rugged for safe work on the ground, so crews have concentrated on clearing fire lines along a highway, roads and a power line, said Rick Miller, the fire team's operations section chief.

Pierson said fire officials hoped to have lines along 30 percent of the fire's perimeter by late Friday.

"We're feeling pretty good, like we're having success," Miller said.

The fire started about noon Wednesday and its cause is under investigation.

Gov. Doug Ducey participated in the briefing, saying that firefighters' safety was "our first priority," followed by containment of the fire.

Arizona is approaching the three-year anniversary of the June 30, 2013 deaths of 19 firefighters who were killed when flames swept through a brush-choked canyon near Yarnell, located 155 miles to the west of Show Low.

"We are in a very dangerous situation," Ducey said.


Davenport reported from Phoenix. AP writer Felicia Fonseca contributed from Flagstaff, Arizona.