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Pinal County fire destroys homes, forces hundreds to evacuate

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office is enforcing evacuation orders in Riverside, a town outside of Kearny.

KEARNY, Ariz. — Kearny, a town of nearly 2,000 people in Pinal County, is watchful but calm on Wednesday evening as an aggressive fire burns through the bottom of the Gila River.

The Simmons Fire has burned through approximately 475 acres with zero containment.

“We’re just trying to make sure that nothing burns down,” Madison Kenney, a Kerny resident, said.

About 300 people living in Riverside are on evacuation orders, but not everyone chose to leave, according to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire destroyed two homes overnight.

“We still have quite a bit of infrastructure and values at risk,” State Fire Management Officer John Truett said.

People living between Riverside and Kearny are also advised to be prepared to evacuate if the fire moves.

“The closer I got to home, the closer it looked like it was right next to me and then it just ended up being in my backyard basically,” Marcus Javier, resident of Kearny, said.

Deceivingly visible by only a plume of smoke at times, officials with the Department of Forestry and Fire Management said flames are moving quickly and are fueled by dry brush and salt cedar.

“A bunch of stuff was on fire, and it was spreading up the river,” Steven Alderete said.

The type three incident management team led the firefight on Wednesday, battling the fire by ground and by air.

Truett said crews are facing several challenges, including the dry heat and wind.

“The temperature starts to rise and the relative humidity goes down, yeah that fire’s going to start to wake up and make some movement,” Truett said.

Thick vegetation at the bottom of the Gila River is also making it difficult to set a perimeter around the fire.

“What we call our production rate is very slow just because of the amount of time it needs to take to clear that vegetation away from the fire’s edge,” Truett said.

The main priority on Wednesday was to keep the flames from moving into Kearny. More resources were brought in to help crews on the ground.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will be assisting the state of Arizona with federal funding.

A FEMA spokesperson said the funding will help pay for field camps, equipment, mobilization and demobilization activities associated with fighting the fire.

The fire is threatening approximately 57 homes, three businesses, two schools, one school district office, a water treatment plant, an airstrip, a railroad line, electrical and transmission lines, the Pinal County Watershed and a copper mine, according to FEMA.

“We’re still kind of on edge, but we’ll see what happens,” Javier said.

People living in and around Kearny said they’re always prepared to make a quick escape if necessary, because of the frequency of fires.

“It’s too far from my house, but you do, always have to be prepared on stuff like this,” Kearny resident Clora Murphy said.

Investigators are still working to figure out what sparked the fire.

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