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Threat fades in AZ

The Aspen Fire was 35 percent contained Thursday.

BY SUSAN KIM | SUMMERHAVEN, Ariz. | June 26, 2003

The Aspen Fire at more than 30,000 acres was 35 percent contained Thursday and fire fighters began to go home.

Fire officials still don't know the cause of the blaze that destroyed more than 200 homes and seven communications towers in and around Summerhaven.

A break in the weather came this week after six straight days of gusting winds and low humidity.

Summerhaven is on Mount Lemmon about 30 miles northeast of Tucson.

Almost every building on the town's main street was either destroyed or damaged, according to reports from Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll.

The fire consumed up to 250 homes in less than an hour last week after it ignited from a still-unknown cause.

Summerhaven, which has about 700 homes and cabins, has about 100 year-round residents.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has declared a state of emergency, and indicated she plans to seek a similar declaration from the federal government.

With gusting winds plaguing them, fire crews were at times forced to withdraw for their own safety. Air tankers have been grounded because of the wind and because they can't negotiate the rugged terrain.

"The majority of the homes are second homes," said Leroy Calbom, disaster response coordinator for the southwest conference of the United Church of Christ.

Calbom said the drought conditions have helped fuel the dangerous fire. "The five year drought has made matters worse, and then, one million acres of timber have died because of bark beetles, which trees normally resist with adequate moisture," he said.

Last week was the anniversary of the Rodeo-Chediski fire that burned 460,000 acres and consumed 465 homes. The United Church of Christ and other faith-based groups are still building houses for people who were underinsured, said Calbom.

The state of Arizona saw 630,000 acres burned in 2002.

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