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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 20:04 GMT 21:04 UK
Blazing Arizona is 'disaster zone'
Smoke rises from the wildfire burning near Show Low, Arizona
Ashes from the fire have started to coat the town
President George W Bush has declared a state of "major disaster" in Arizona in the wake of the massive wildfires wreaking havoc in the state.

The move means that federal money will go to help recovery efforts, including emergency housing for the estimated 30,000 people who have been forced to flee what is now the largest forest fire in Arizona's history.

The blaze is still threatening to engulf Show Low, a small town 240 kilometres (150 miles) from the state capital, Phoenix.

On Tuesday, Mr Bush visited the area as he set off for the G8 Summit in Canada.

"One house lost is too many houses lost, but there have been thousands of houses saved too and that's important," he told a group of evacuees in the town of Eagar, 70 km southeast of the fire line on the outskirts of Show Low.

About 8,000 residents of Show Low have had to flee their homes as more than 2,000 firefighters battle the flames.

"This is a tough moment," the president said.

Officials say calmer winds have slowed the blaze's progress somewhat.

More fires feared

But firefighters fear that either a wall of flame could engulf Show Low or embers could create a series of smaller blazes.

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

Ashes from the flames, which are just under a kilometre away from the town, have begun to coat its buildings.

Some people took refuge in a  local football stadium
Thousands have had to flee their homes
The fire is now about 80 km across, out of control and raging through paper-dry forests.

It has already charred more than 360,000 acres (144,000 hectares) and burned about 345 homes,

This is the latest in a series of blazes to have swept across the western United States, burning more than 1,500 square km (600 square miles) of forest land.

Ideal conditions

Two smaller fires - both believed to have been started by human action - merged on Sunday.

Arizona Governor Jane Hull blamed poor forest management for the ferocity of the fire, which began early last week and has become the worst in the state's 90-year history.

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It is so scary to know that my house will burn and there is nothing we can do

John, Arizona

"I know this country and I have never seen anything like this fire," Ms Hull said.

Drier forests, higher temperatures and a dry winter have made the conditions ideal for fire to spread.

US Forest Service official Dorman McGann said pine forests had became choked with underbrush because environmentalists had blocked efforts to clear it.

There are 16 other fires still raging across the western US.

In Colorado, rain and cooler weather helped firefighters attack the Hayman blaze, 90 km (55 miles) south-west of Denver, bringing two-thirds of the two-week-old blaze under control.

But all of Colorado's fires are under a red flag warning, meaning that higher temperatures, low humidity and forecasts of higher winds could easily cause a fire to flare up again.

Land burned in this year's fire season stands at nearly 930,000 hectares (2.3 million acres), more than double the 10-year average of 370,000 hectares (920,000 acres), according to the National Interagency Fire Centre.


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