TUCSON, ARIZ. Firefighters moved through the charred, smoky streets of a mountaintop resort Friday to protect what was left of a community decimated by a raging wildfire that reduced 250 homes to smoking rubble.
Heavy smoke hid the Summerhaven hamlet from observers flying overhead Friday, but parted occasionally to reveal a moonscape of blackened trees stripped of their branches. A cul-de-sac with homes burned to their foundations was visible from above.
A top fire official said Friday that firefighters knew when they saw the flames that they had little chance of stopping them.
Winds up to 60 mph drove the fire through dry pine country and up the streets of Summerhaven in about an hour Thursday.
"By the time this thing ignited, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion this thing was going to go where it wanted to go," said Larry Humphrey, commander of the fire team battling the blaze on Mount Lemmon.
Fire crews are bracing for more destruction in Summerhaven with forecasts calling for strong winds and dry conditions for the next several days. Up to 1,000 firefighters are expected to be battling the fire within a few days.
Air tankers were kept on the ground Friday afternoon because of high winds. Later in the day, Humphrey said the fire had burned across a ridge holding several communications transmitter towers, but it was unclear whether they had been damaged.
Humphrey said he expected the fire, which grew from an estimated 465 acres Thursday to about 3,200 acres early Friday, to eventually burn tens of thousands of acres because there was no good place to stop it.
The fire started Tuesday in the worst possible place where the wind would take it right into town.