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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 22:54 GMT 23:54 UK
Firefighter charged over Arizona blaze
Smoke rises from Arizona wildfire
The fire has forced 30,000 to flee
A man has been arrested in Arizona for allegedly starting one of the two forest fires that eventually merged into a massive blaze that has forced thousands to flee their homes.

Leonard Gregg
Gregg allegedly set the fires to get more work
Leonard Gregg, 29, is a contract firefighter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who allegedly started the blaze because he wanted some seasonal work, prosecutors said.

Appearing in court in Flagstaff, Arizona Mr Gregg was charged with two counts of wilfully and without authority setting fire to timber, said US District Magistrate Stephen Verkamp.

Each charge carries a possible jail sentence of five-years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Town saved

Mr Gregg is accused of starting what was originally called the Rodeo fire, which merged with another blaze to form the biggest fire in Arizona's history.

By Saturday, it had ripped through 180,000 hectares (452,000 acres), destroyed more than 400 homes and forced more than 30,000 people to flee.

The announcement of the arrest was made in Show Low, a small town that firefighters were able to spare from the flames, as residents returned to their homes.

But the blaze was still burning out of control, and fire crews were working hard to save the community of Forest Lakes, 55 kilometres (35 miles) from Show Low.

Battle continues

"We're still dealing with a huge monster," fire crew spokesman Jim Paxon said.

Arizona burning
Now covers 180,00 hectares (452,000 acres)
More than 30,000 evacuees
More than 400 homes burnt down

The latest battleground is a local highway, State Route 260. Fire officials fear that if the blaze is able to jump the road, it will expand rapidly through a pine forest.

President George Bush visited the region last week before heading to Canada for the G8 summit, and declared a "major disaster" in the area, freeing up federal recovery funds.

Launch new window : US Fires
In pictures: Fighting the wildfires

Other fires in the US also continued to burn, with firefighters in Colorado close to claiming victory over the flames that once threatened Denver's southern suburbs.

But another Colorado wildfire, burning north of Durango, has covered more than 28,000 hectares and firefighters said it was not yet under control.

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The BBC's Nick Bryant
"The wild fire has caused millions of dollars of damage"

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See also:

28 Jun 02 | Americas
26 Jun 02 | Americas
25 Jun 02 | Americas
23 Jun 02 | Americas
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12 Jun 02 | Americas
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