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Arizona town evacuated amid fires

Strong winds have whipped up a gigantic blaze in the mountains of eastern Arizona, forcing the evacuation of a third resort town and casting a haze over states as far away as Iowa.

Winds of about 30mph, with gusts above 60mph, blew heavy smoke from the fire in the picturesque town of Greer, where most of the 200 full-time residents had already fled.

Everyone still there and in a nearby area known as Sunrise were ordered to leave yesterday afternoon.

Last night, a huge pall of black smoke loomed over the twin towns of Eager and Springerville, home to about 7,000 people, and sheriff's officials told residents to prepare to leave.

The winds and expected lightning storms may make matters worse in an area dotted with cabins and campsites that have long provided a cool summer getaway from the oppressive heat of the nearby desert.

The fire was projected to have grown to nearly 365 square miles officials said, based on overnight mapping flights. Officials believe an abandoned campfire may have sparked the blaze more than a week ago.

So far, the flames have destroyed five buildings and scorched 233,522 acres of ponderosa pine forest. No serious injuries have been reported. The blaze nearly doubled in size between Saturday and Monday.

About 2,700 to 3,000 people are believed to have fled Alpine and Nutrioso late last week and headed to larger towns for shelter, Governor Jan Brewer said.

Roughly 2,500 firefighters, including many from several western states and as far away as New York, are working to contain the wildfires, fire information officer Peter Frenzen said.

Gov Brewer signed an emergency declaration that will allow the use of 200,000 dollars (£122,409) in emergency funds and authorises the mobilisation of the National Guard if it becomes necessary.

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