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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
US firefighters fear merger menace
Arizona firefighter
Trees and brush are being cleared from near homes
There are growing fears that two wildfires burning out of control in eastern Arizona could soon converge.

Fire crews say strong winds could cause the so-called Rodeo fire, which has burned 48,600 hectares (120,000 acres), to join up with the Chediski fire burning on 1,050 hectares (2,600 acres) about 13 kilometres (eight miles) away.

The Rodeo fire, which began on Tuesday, has destroyed at least 12 homes in the town of Pinedale and is threatening other populated areas, fire service officials said.

Enlarge image Click here to enlarge satellite image

The blaze has forced the evacuation of up to 8,000 people in communities west of the town of Show Low, 200km (125 miles) north east of Phoenix. Firefighters were due to begin creating fire breaks near the bottom of the 30-km (20-mile) fire, and trees and bushes were being removed from near homes.

The fire is centred on Pinedale but the communities of Linden, Clay Springs and Cibecue are all threatened.

Lana Rexroat, a Clay Springs resident who is expecting her fifth child in six weeks, was in tears after hearing that the blaze was close to her town. "I want to have a home to take my baby to in six weeks," she said.

Fire information officer Jim Paxon described the fire as a "monster" and said other homes in Pinedale had been damaged but there had been no injuries or fatalities.

Firefighter Alma Leithead told the Associated Press news agency he had seen mobile homes melted by the fires and burnt foundations where homes had been.

"It's horrible to see," he said.

Fires converging

Officials said the Chediski fire had been started as a signal fire by a lost hiker.

That fire has forced families in the communities of Heber and Overgaard to flee.

The wildfires are two of 18 burning across eight US states.

In Colorado, rain and cooler weather helped firefighters attack the 54,000-hectare (136,000-acre) Hayman blaze.

The US Forest Service says the fire is the biggest ever in the state's history. It has cost more than $20m to fight so far and could rage on through the summer.

A US Forest Service worker, Terry Barton, has been charged with deliberately starting the Colorado blaze. She denies the charge.

If found guilty she faces a maximum prison term of 65 years and fines totalling $1m.

Ms Barton, who was arrested on Sunday, told investigators that the fire started accidentally when she burned a letter from her estranged husband.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Matt Prodger
"Despite all efforts, the fires are completely out of control"

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