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Wildfire consumes homes in eastern Arizona

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A stubborn 5-day-old wildfire that has forced hundreds of people to flee their homes in eastern Arizona grew dramatically to 106,000 acres on Friday, claiming as many as seven dwellings, officials said.

Some 900 firefighters made slow progress on a wind-whipped blaze that nearly doubled in size overnight Thursday and crept to the edge of Alpine, a small enclave of several hundred people located 250 miles northeast of Phoenix, fire officials said.

Alpine and the tiny nearby town of Nutrioso were evacuated on Thursday.

The so-called Wallow Fire, the most severe of three major blazes flaring across the state, burned down a mobile home in Alpine and as many as six cabins in the adjacent Beaver Creek area, American Red Cross officials confirmed Friday.

The blaze ranks as the fourth-largest wildfire on record in Arizona. As of late Friday, firefighters had achieved zero containment of the flames.

"I'm not sure I have the words to describe this -- it's been pretty bad," said Deryl Jevons, a fire information spokesman. "This has been a very fast-moving fire."

Smoke and ash drifting eastward from fires in Arizona and New Mexico prompted air quality advisories to be issued for parts of New Mexico, including Albuquerque, by public health officials there.

Weather conditions were expected to remain about the same in the region on Friday, with a high potential for additional charred acreage due to wind gusts near gale force.

The blaze erupted on Sunday, churning through bone-dry scrub and brush for the first few days. By Thursday, it had blackened 60,000 acres.

Fire officials ordered evacuations later that day of an undermined number of residents in and around Alpine, and a Red Cross shelter was set up for evacuees at a local high school.

There was no immediate word on when displaced residents would be able to return to their homes.

(Additional reporting by Zelie Pollon; Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)

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