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Wildfire burning near Whiteriver

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

A wind-driven wildfire that spread rapidly near Whiteriver, Ariz., destroyed buildings in a subdivision and led to evacuation of others and on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

U.S. Forest Service officials said late yesterday the fire believed to be of human origin charred 3,500 to 5,000 acres north of Whiteriver.

Officials said they didn’t know how many buildings were destroyed by the flames in the Diamond Creek subdivision near the town in the White Mountains of far east-central Arizona.

Spokesman Bob Dyson said the Alchesay Fish Hatchery was evacuated as well as subdivisions called Cradle Board, Jurassic Park, Rainbow and Over the Rainbow, Dyson said.

Fire crews were attempting to save the Indian Health Services building, Dyson said.

Power was out in Whiteriver, and Arizona Highway 73 was closed, authorities said.

Earlier, the fire spewed heavy black smoke 20,000 feet into the air.

Elderly members of the Whiteriver-Apache tribe suffered breathing problems, and several people were taken to shelter at a high school gymnasium, although an exact count wasn’t available, said Jim Anderson of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Anderson said the fire about 2 miles north of Whiteriver was burning heavy vegetation, trees and brush about 17 miles south of Pinetop-Lakeside, about 130 miles east of Phoenix.

Whiteriver itself wasn’t at risk unless the blaze changed direction, Anderson said.

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