Thousands flee AZ fire

Thousands of people were evacuated from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in eastern Arizona.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | July 15, 2003

"It was their forest that burned, and their livelihood,"

—Leroy Calbom

Officials Thursday said some 5,000 people evacuated from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in eastern Arizona would not be able to return home for at least another two days.

The 17,700-acre Kinishba Fire 10 percent contained Thursday, with calm winds helping fire fighting efforts.

The state of Arizona has declared emergencies in Gila and Navajo counties.

Tribal leaders said the fire could affect the tribe's logging industry and tourism, which provide the majority of the tribe's summer income.

A hospital on the reservation was among the buildings evacuated, leaving a skeleton staff to man the emergency room.

As of Thursday morning, no structures had been destroyed by the fire.

Evacuations were ordered Monday afternoon when the fire neared the Whiteriver community.

The blaze, burning east of last year's huge Rodeo-Chediski fire, was caused by lightning and was burning through juniper and ponderosa pine.

Faith-based groups, including Church World Service and its partners, are involved in helping people make a long-term recovery from the Rodeo-Chediski fire. That fire burned 469,000 acres and destroyed nearly 500 homes. At the peak of the blaze, some 30,000 people were forced to flee their homes.

The Rodeo-Chediski fire also hit the White Mountain Apache Tribe's timber industry, which accounts for more than half the tribe's income.

Leroy Calbom of the United Church of Christ national disaster response ministries described the destruction of reservation timber last summer as "an unemployment nightmare" for the Apache tribe. "It was their forest that burned, and their livelihood," he said.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief was consulting with Federal Emergency Management officials this week to determine an appropriate response.

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