What to know about the Telegraph Fire: Evacuations ordered, highways closed

Authorities have ordered more evacuations amid a wildfire burning in south-central Arizona’s hill country.

The Telegraph Fire has grown to 179,678 acres and there is 67% containment.

Areas placed in "GO" mode:

  • Dripping Springs
  • Wind Spirit
  • Hagen Ranch
  • Slash S Ranch
  • Government Springs

Areas placed in "SET" mode:

  • All El Capitan residents
  • Six Shooter
  • Icehouse

Areas placed in "READY" mode:

  • Top-of-the-World
  • Beverly Hills
  • Bellevue
  • Oak Flat
  • Superior
  • Globe
  • Miami
  • Claypool
  • Central Heights
  • Pinto/Carlotta
  • Skill Center
  • Fairgrounds
  • Schultz Ranch
  • Battle Axe

The Red Cross Evacuation Shelter located at High Desert Middle School, 4000 High Desert Drive in Globe is now closed. Anyone needing assistance should call 1-800-842-7349.

State Route 77 is closed at southbound US 70 and State Route 177 in Winkelman.

SR 77 is open at US 70 to El Capitan for residents only.

Governor Doug Ducey issued "Declarations of Emergency" in response to the Telegraph and Mescal Fires, making $400,000 available for response efforts.

The United States Postal Service has suspended service in the Globe, Miami, Claypool, San Carlos, Bylas and Peridot post offices.

Timeline of the Telegraph Fire

June 19

The Telegraph Fire has grown to 179,678 acres and decreased to 67% containment.

915 personnel are out fighting the flames.

"Overnight, firefighters successfully used existing road systems to keep the fire from impacting Government Springs Ranch," officials said in a statement. "Crews continued to monitor the fire backing down in pine stands on Pinal Peak. Firefighters maintained a presence in El Capitan, and the communities along Dripping Springs Road."

June 18

The Telegraph Fire has grown to 176,122 acres and remains 72% contained.

Officials say 51 structures have been lost in the fire. Over 950 personnel are assigned to battle the fire.

The Gila County Sheriff's Office has moved El Capitan residents to "SET mode"

June 17

The Telegraph Fire has grown to 173,202 acres and remains 72% contained.

42 structures have been damaged or destroyed in the fire.

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office announced Top-of-the-World and Oak Flat have been returned to "READY" status.

Today, fire officials say that today was a good day, primarily due to the lack of outflow winds coming down from the Mogollon Rim and White Mountains, resulting in minimal fire behavior.

"We are having some good success of pushing the fire towards some brakes that have been valuable for us," said Steve Kliest, part of the Type 1 Southwest Incident Management Team. 

The fire, which was first reported on June 4, has no doubt been a challenge for fire crews in recent weeks.

"What’s really been driving this fire more recently anyway has been the vegetation…when they get aligned with canyons and with the heat, then they want to run," Kliest said.

Officials say the northern part of the fire is secured. The southern part has been active, but it's now moving into red broom and Mediterranean grass, which he says are lighter fuels.

"Essentially it’s grass, real small," Kliest said. "It will carry it and run really quickly, but won’t put up a really large flame front like initially you saw with this fire. That makes it much more amendable for firefighters' boots on the ground to be able to work on those types of conditions." 

Kliest says that despite the extreme heat, there hasn't been as many dehydrated firefighters as expected, which is uncharacteristic.

"A lot of that is because the medical unit leaders," he said. "We are still seeing some heat-related illnesses, but minor ones."

Tonight, crews will be working on part of State Route 77 and removing a lot of the dry vegetation. A Type 2 team from the northwest will be taking over starting Saturday.

June 16

The Telegraph Fire has grown to 165,740 acres and there is 72% containment.

Officials say the fire has merged with the Mescal Fire, but that's actually a good thing because the fire is moving into an area of the Mescal Fire that has already burned.

Firefighters had hoped to use a road east of Route 77 as a barrier and containment line to stop the spread, but with Monday afternoon's strong winds, it jumped the line.

"The fire activity was so intense, we had spot fires over…Highway 77 behind us and get established in the east side of the highway," said David Albo, public information officer. "It ran until it hit the burn scar from the Mescal Fire which worked to our advantage. It acted kind of like a catcher's mitt and stopped the fire on the east flank."

The main concern for crews now is stopping the Telegraph Fire flames from pushing further south into smaller communities, past El Capitan. At one point, firefighters say the flames were traveling 6 miles per hour.

An ash scar on El Capitan Pass gave a glimpse of the fire fight around the homes nearby.

"It came in from the north, the west and then wrapped around from the south that night," Albo said. "So it was an extremely busy hectic fire fight."

The challenge started a day earlier as heat and near zero humidity wreaked havoc on the front.

Eventually, Telegraph Fire command says the column collapsed, which means high winds surged in every direction.

It’s been an ongoing challenge for crews that work up to 16 hour days, and some sleep on the football field at Miami High School.

"This one's been particularly hot, particularly dry," said Kevin Gifford with the Engine Boss Golden Valley Fire District.

Gifford's team was four out of 1,000 firefighters working to keep it from spreading. They spent two days widening Route 77 hoping it would hold.

"It’s tough, it’s a lot of work," Giffords said. "It’s just like anything somebody works on and then it falls apart - we get used to it, so it’s not that big of a deal. We know it happens. You make a line and then you start planning the next line and you prep for that and hopefully that one holds."

June 15

The Telegraph Fire has grown to 139,615 acres and is 59% contained, continuing to drop in containment as dry conditions and brush continue to fuel the blaze. The wildfire is less than one mile from Top-of-the-World. Over 1,000 personnel are assigned to the fire.

Fire officials said Tuesday that it’s still not safe for residents from across roughly 60 households in El Capitan, Dripping Springs and other nearby communities to go home.

The blaze grew overnight on the west, north and southeast fronts, according to the fire incident management team. More than 1,000 firefighters have focused on protecting structures and maintaining containment lines.

June 14

The Gila County Sheriff's Office has announced a "GO" notification for all residents of Dripping Springs and El Capitan on both sides of Highway 77.

The Telegraph Fire burning south of Globe jumped the containment line last night, leading to new evacuation orders.

The fire has spread to 104,755 acres with 68% containment. Containment has decreased by 6% compared to earlier this afternoon, and the fire grew more than 17,000 acres overnight.

Telegraph Fire Command said overnight conditions were unique and led to active fire activity at around 3 A.M. Monday morning. Humidity was near zero, and temperatures only dropped to the 80’s as the fire spread past Pioneer Pass Road along Route 77.

The fire is causing new problems for the 1,008 firefighters on hand as overnight heat helped the fire jump the containment line.

"We have extreme fire behavior we normally don’t see, and that’s why we get back," said public information officer Larry Bickel. "We can’t have spotting behind our lines and when we see that, we immediately get out."

As low humidity and high heat control the blaze, the fire command says they have concern about the column collapsing, which would spread heat and smoke in all directions.

"A very bad thing, its a huge safety concern for us," said public information officer David Albo.

The heat will mean many breaks for firefighters as they try to navigate triple digit temperatures and an ever-changing front. A containment line is being established with a backup beyond that just in case.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Stubblefield works closely with the fire behavioral analysts, providing weather reports to see what this fire will do next.

"We look at how dry is the atmosphere and how unstable it is, and over the last several days, both of those have been very high," said Stubblefield. "So when the fire starts to burn, it is able to burn very quickly, and because the the atmosphere is unstable the smoke plume goes up very high, and that acts like a chimney and allows the fire to burn rapidly.

Fire officials anticipate the extreme heat to continue to be a challenge in the week ahead.

"There are a lot of mine shafts out there that are unidentified and we can’t see them under the brush," said Mike Gillespie, Telegraph Fire Safety Officer. "Some of the areas have never been cleared and never been burned, so we can come across vertical mine shafts."

Teams said the aerial attack is only off and on because the air is too thin for consistency flying.

Ten firefighters have experienced health issues so far, with their injuries being described as twisted ankles and bee stings.

An update is expected on Facebook at 6 p.m.

Watch the meeting here: https://www.facebook.com/events/243480484244910

A view of the Telegraph Fire in Globe

A view of the Telegraph Fire from Globe taken on July 13. (Credit: Margaret Hughes)

June 13

All evacuation orders have been lifted, with many communities returning to a "READY" or "SET" status.

The fire has scorched 88,155 acres and is at 76% containment. 

June 12

Evacuation orders have been lifted for Top-of-the-World, Lower Central Heights and the Oak Flats campground.

 The fire is 87,078 acres and is 45% contained.

The Arizona Dept. of Transportation said US 60 has reopened between Superior and Miami and are advising drivers to watch for reduced speed and visibility on the highway.

June 11

The Telegraph Fire has grown to 86,529 acres and containment has dropped to 38.5%. The fire is the ninth-largest wildfire in the history of Arizona.

A virtual public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on the incident Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Telegraphfireinformation/

June 10

Officials say the Telegraph Fire has burned 85,335 acres and is 40% contained.

June 9

The Telegraph Fire has now burned over 80,000 acres and is 34% contained.

Governor Doug Ducey issued Declarations of Emergency in response to the Telegraph and Mescal Fires, making $400,000 available for response efforts.

"The Declarations of Emergency will help make sure responders have the necessary resources for response and recovery – protecting people, pets & property," Ducey said in a tweet. "We will continue to work closely with local officials to ensure the needs of those communities are met."

The Red Cross says anywhere between 12 to 100 people have been to their evacuation site, but the mayor of Globe hopes that number will increase thanks to the new declaration.

The evacuation shelter at High Desert Middle School is getting a new addition, thanks to the governor's signature.

"Last night they called and sent a check to set up a shelter, an animal shelter and pay for two weeks," said Globe Mayor Al Gameros.

Gameros says the money freed up from the order to create this new animal shelter will convince his residents evacuate to safely while the Telegraph Fire burns nearby.

"It’s dangerous," the mayor said. "People don’t want to leave their homes because they don’t want to leave their animals, so this will encourage people will come up here."

Their response is now more than 750 firefighters strong.

Now, they're trying to keep the fire from getting into the canyons leading up to Globe. Firefighters marked evacuated homes with pink tape, with written notes on whether they are defensible.

Hoses are in yards along with pools of water at the ready.

Residents here are nervous.

"Embers get in here, we don’t want another fire to start," said volunteer Brian Thacker. "Doing this it helps clear this out and protect houses right here."

Residents cleared out the brush all day, hoping the fire line holds just to the south.

"If the embers come in, it’s going to take us out too," said Globe resident Loren Copeland.

The fire is burning near Pinal Peak, where the Pinal Fire burned in 2017. The command center said that’s where they hope to keep this fire, and the mayor says it will be vital to protect homes in the next 24 hours.

State Route 77 has reopened between Globe and Winkelman, along with the US 70 between mileposts 256 and 302.

Rep. David Cook speaks out

The flag blowing behind Representative David Cook at his home has helped him predict where the Telegraph Fire was going.

"I watch the flag and watch the direction of the wind," Cook said. "We know the wind has been going to the northeast and towards Globe, all the way from Superior."

Cook will meet Governor Doug Ducey tomorrow at the airport before the Governor, the House Speaker, and a member of the Senate tour the fire damage.

"I’m looking forward to the governor and the speaker of the house getting a look at what’s going on on the ground," Cook said. "The humanitarian needs our community needs."

On the ground, the damage is evident. Longtime residents are calling it the worst they’ve ever seen.

"The wind shifts and here comes the fire," said one resident. "The fire crew - we’ve got people from everywhere and they’re kicking butt, but we’re just the little man."

Cook agrees. He’s never seen it this bad, and he hopes the governor sees the same.

"We’re a destination for a day outside the Valley," the representative said. "Want to get out of the heat? You can’t find a better small town to go to than Globe, AZ. So we’re wondering, what kind of financial impact is this going to have on a tourist who comes out and wants to hike the mountains?"

June 8

The Telegraph Fire has burned 76,260 acres and is 18% contained.

Crews have worked around the clock to keep the flames out of Miami, Globe and Superior.

The number of fire personnel went from 300 to now more than 750 firefighters with multiple aircraft, scoopers and helicopters to attack the flames.

Two homes were lost, as well as three other outbuildings.

While some received some good news - others, like the Arizona House Speaker, did not.

It was a better night for Gila County Communicable Disease Specialist Taylor Perez, thanks to the difference of just a few dozen feet.

"It looks like the fire shifted a little bit more up the hill, but away from the house, which is excellent news," Perez said.

She had been ordered to evacuate Monday from her Miami home. In those 24 hours, the air assault was constant, in the face of 30 mile per hour gusts.

The Telegraph Fire command said they had success near Superior, as pink slurry was dumped outside the Boyce Thompson Arboretum to keep the flames out. On Tuesday, hotshots continued to monitor and attack the brush.

However, on the other side of the fire, the flames grew by 10,000 acres overnight near Miami.

Taylor Perez's home was moved back to a "Set" order, but she's still staying vigilant.

"Our stuff is packed just in case," Perez said.

The good news is that the fire is headed to an area that recently burned in a wildfire in 2017. As the fire rages near Miami, sending these new flames near where the Pinal Fire scorched the wildland may be the firefighters' best choice.

"It burned the underbrush in there, and that kind of reduces the fuel for this one," said Dean McAllister, Telegraph Fire information officer.

The rubble of Rusty Bowers' home

The rubble of Rusty Bowers' home

Meanwhile, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers' longtime family home, 5 miles southwest of Miami, was destroyed overnight.

A spokesperson said that Bowers' thoughts are with all Arizonans and communities facing fire dangers this season, and will make sure fire suppression is funded in the budget.

Arizona Representative David Cook's home is in "Go" orders near Globe.

"And we’re not close," Cook said. "That’s how large this fire is and how quickly it has spread."

On a brighter note, the winds are expected to die down in the coming days. This will help, but the fire command says the rising temperatures should create a new challenge as they hope to keep the fire out of Miami.

The United States Postal Service has suspended service in the Globe, Miami, Claypool, San Carlos, Bylas and Peridot post offices.

Donations wanted for impacted residents

The Red Cross provides everyone who stays at their shelter with essentials, like a comfort kit with shampoos, conditioners, razors, toothbrushes, even Kleenex - but now the community is stepping up and taking that comfort to an entirely different level.

"Tons of cases of water, which we always need, boxes of snacks that are wrapped, people are going to Costco and the warehouses and buying a lot of stuff," said Red Cross volunteer Marcia Stewart. "I had a little guy come in last night with some stuff that he made put together. A little bag of stuff for him, the kids here."

Community members are also dropping off dog food, cat food, bowls, leashes and crates for the Arizona Humane Society, which is now caring for more than 30 pets. That number has tripled since Monday. 

"It definitely makes a difference because obviously in addition to the pets we're caring for here which is some of the most we’ve had here in Arizona…we’re also caring for thousands of sick, injured pets back at the shelter," said Kelsey Dickerson with the Arizona Humane Society. "So we’re having to ration everything and be able to split those supplies up."

Anyone wanting to make a donation to the Red Cross can call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text Red Cross at 90999 for a $10 donation.

Donate: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation.html
 

June 7

It's been a long day for crews from Gila and Pinal counties, the Tonto National Forest and Arizona Fire Management.

The multi-agency team updated communities Monday night in a virtual session on social media, calling the fire dynamic and complex.

The air attacks have been constant throughout the day in attempts to control the massive fire.

"Massive fires sort of pinning us in the Miami, Globe area so we’re really concerned," said Michael O'Driscoll, Gila County Director of Health and Emergency Management. "But I have faith in the firefighters."

The fire has burned an estimated 61,211 acres and is less than one mile from Top-of-the-World, officials say.

Power has been shut off for 211 homes in the town, with no estimated time to turn back on.

Karen Takai with the Telegraph Fire Incident Command says to stay off the roads and evacuate if ordered to.

"This fire is so fluid, it’s moving in directions that are unexpected," Takai said. "We hope we have the strategies out there to hold it and pull it back in, but fire is unforgiving. So you need to take that to heart. Don’t stay home. Evacuate. Your life is not worth losing."

Watch the public information session about the Telegraph Fire at 8 p.m.: https://www.facebook.com/TontoNationalForest

Since Sunday night, Bunny Kessler has been updating her community on the fight against the Telegraph Fire. She's sitting in a tower above Buena Vista School in Miami with a unique point of view.

"If I can get it out there, like, let's do this, let's be a community and get it all done," Kessler said.

Kessler says she plans to stay as long as possible.

"Miami is my home," she said. "Least I can do is help the other people that live here."

Justine Avalos evacuated her apartment in Top-of-the-World. She's lived through several wildfire seasons but is concerned about this fire. She's headed to Phoenix soon - hopefully with her pets.

"All of the things we have against us - the constant wind change and the gusts of wind picking up, the speeds constantly changing, the high temperatures are awful - that's not gonna change either," said Avalos. "We don't have much going for us at this point."

Kayla Lathrop just moved from Indiana, and today was her first day as a Gila County communicable disease specialist.

"The way the clouds in [the] sky light up with the smoke, especially at sunset.. I really noticed it last night," said Lathrop. "It’s freaky. It’s out of this world honestly."

Craig Stockman is a content creator who lives in Superior and captured a time lapse of the overnight flames.

"It’s scaring everybody," Stockman said. "I would have never expected this when I moved here."

"You’ll be sitting on your porch at night and there’s just a torch on the ridge right there," he continued. "And yesterday, when it really popped off, it was like a bomb."

It wasn't just people who had to be evacuated - dozens of pets were also forced from their homes.

Dan Smith received orders to evacuate late Sunday morning, and he was grateful to have a place where his family and pets could stay.

"We have three dogs and a bird, and we weren’t too sure that a hotel was gonna let us come in with the animals," Smith said.

The Arizona Humane Society, which is the state's designated first responder for pets in distress during natural disasters, has technicians that stay with the animals 24/7.

"A lot of times people won’t evacuate if they think they don’t have a safe place for their pets," said Kelsey Dickerson with the Arizona Humane Society. "Not every Red Cross is able to take of animals, they’re able to care for the people side of things.

"That’s where the Arizona Humane Society steps in to be able to care for the animals that have nowhere else to go," Dickerson explained. "You are taking care of yourselves, making sure that your family is safe - we’re making sure that your furry family members are safe as well."

The Red Cross says this is probably the fifth wildfire that they have assisted in. Both the Arizona Humane Society and Red Cross welcome donations because of the busy fire season.

The nonprofit is still taking pets in at Skyline High School in Mesa, and another team has been deployed to Globe.

The Gila County Animal Shelter is currently at capacity.

June 6

The Telegraph Fire is burning three miles south of Superior, and the town is being asked to stay alert in case an evacuation order is issued. Superior has approximately 3,100 residents and is 57 miles (92 kilometers) east of Phoenix.

As of the afternoon of June 6, the Telegraph Fire has burned 40,000 acres of land. About 150 homes and two commercial buildings are threatened.

"Certainly a dynamic fire. We are at the early stages of this, and if I had to project, I’d say this is going to impact local communities for a number of days," said Jeff Andrews with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team

The cause of the fire is under investigation, nut Andrews says recent dry conditions is definitely a factor.

"We’ve been in a drought now for a couple years, and these drought conditions, the field are very dry. We have warm temps on the increase, and we are just at the start of fire season," said Andrews.

Evacuation order issued

Officials issued an evacuation order for Top-of-the-World Sunday morning.

An evacuation center has been opened at Skyline High School on Crismon Road in Mesa and at Lee Kornegay Intermediate School in Miami at 4635 Railroad Avenue.

Large animals can be sheltered at the Birch Stockyard in Globe and on the Apache Junction Rodeo grounds.

On June 6, Gila County officials say a "Go" notification has been issued for all Miami residents west of the Miami town limits. Meanwhile, a "Set" notification has been set for residents within Miami, Claypool, Little Acres, Russell Road/Russell Gulch, and the Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center.

Meanwhile, Pinal County authorities say residents in Top-of-the-World and those living at Oaks Mobile Home and RV Park are being asked to evacuate.

"Follow instructions from emergency personnel, stay on designated evacuation routes and avoid closed areas," read a tweet.

A "set" alert has issued for Superior was not an evacuation notification, the Sheriff’s Office said. "This means there is significant danger in your area. Locate your emergency go kit and be ready to evacuate if notified from public safety officials."

An evacuation center has been opened at Skyline High School in Mesa and at Lee Kornegay Intermediate School in Miami.

Road closures:

Several area roads have also been closed, including US 60 from Superior to Top-of-the-World, State Route 77 from Globe to Winkelman, and State Route 117 from Superior to Winkelman.

Humane Society officials express concerns

Officials with the Arizona Humane Society say there is a concern that some people may not evacuate from their homes because they don't want to leave their pets behind.

"For someone who is unable to take their pet with them while evacuating, we never want that to be a deterrent, so the Arizona Humane Society is there to help those who may not have family they can stay with," said Arizona Humane Society Spokesperson Kelsey Dickerson.

The Arizona Humane Society is hosting pets at Skyline High School. There, the pets are kept in kennels, in separate rooms from the humans. The pets will be overseen by staff and veterinary technicians.

"Right now, we are caring for three dogs and an African parrot," said Dickerson. "Assist them with anything they might need, an overnight stay if they need while they are away from their humans, and getting back on their feet at this time."

June 5

The fire has burned an estimated 7,000 acres after starting Friday afternoon. It was originally reported at 1,500 acres on Friday but has grown to more than quadruple that size overnight.

SR 77 is closed in both directions between the SR 177 junction in Winkelman and US 70, while SR 177 is closed between US 60 in Superior and SR 77 in Winkelman.

150 fire personnel have been assigned to fight the fire.

Telegraph Fire

Telegraph Fire (Tonto National Forest)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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