CBSN

Crews Dig In Against Arizona Fire

A home burns as a wildfire moves through Summerhaven, a community on Mount Lemmon near Tucson, Ariz., Thursday, June 19, 2003.
AP
Firefighters brought in hoses Sunday to defend an observatory against an uncontrolled wildfire that had already burned more than 250 homes in a mountaintop community.

Crews also planned backburns to clear vegetation along a ridge where they were making a stand to try to keep the wildfire from reaching clusters of homes on the outskirts of Summerhaven.

The wildfire had burned across more than 8,800 acres in the mountains northeast of Tucson, and firefighters fear it will char thousands more before they can stop it.

Sunday morning, the blaze was only about 5 percent contained as firefighters focused on an area near the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory and radio and television towers. Three towers had already been lost to the fire, though the observatory remained untouched.

Fire crews on Saturday were able to save most of the roughly 30 homes in the latest subdivision reached by the wildfire. Smoldering tree stumps still surround the area where they struggled to hold back the blaze.

In Summerhaven, which had an estimated 700 homes and cabins and a handful of businesses a week ago, the fire had destroyed some buildings along the main street while leaving others untouched.

Coils from burned box springs and metal grates were visible amid the pile of rubble that was the two-story Alpine Lodge. A stone fireplace climbed 20 feet into the air behind a wrought iron fence that had encircled a two-story home.

"I don't have a vocabulary big enough" to describe the damage, Gov. Janet Napolitano said after viewing Summerhaven from the air Saturday.

Federal emergency officials and county officials had been scheduled to survey the area Sunday to begin assessing the loss.

The blaze was fueled by pine trees ravaged by years of drought and a beetle infestation and driven by wind gusting to 60 mph as it roared through Summerhaven on Thursday. The flames soon spread across the top of 9,157-foot Mount Lemmon and headed down the north slope.

The community of Summerhaven had about 100 year-round residents but its population grew during the summer and weekends as Tucson residents drove up the mountain to escape the desert heat.