Arizona brush fire closes state highway, forces evacuations

Fire truck at the Lost Dutchman Fire in Apache Junction, Arizona.

Fire crews in Apache Junction, Arizona, spent Thursday afternoon and evening putting out a large brush fire that closed a portion of State Route 88. State officials said the forward progress of the fire has been stopped. About 160 firefighters from several agencies came together to fight the flames, which burned roughly 260 acres.

Named the Lost Dutchman Fire, it was first reported around 2:30 p.m. local time, with smoke spotted behind the rodeo grounds located at Lost Dutchman Boulevard and Tomahawk Road. Apache Junction police called for evacuations of some homes along Hackmore Road, close to where the fire broke out.

A section of SR-88 was closed until 7 p.m. between Lost Dutchman Boulevard and Hackmore Road. Lost Dutchman Boulevard was also closed at Tomahawk Road as crews worked to put the fire out. All road closures and evacuations were lifted later Thursday night.

Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Dolores Garcia told KXNV-TV that she and other state officials “absolutely believe the fire was human-caused.”

About an hour after the Lost Dutchman Fire was reported, a second fire started less than two miles south of the initial fire. The new blaze, the Southern Fire, grew to 35 acres just east of Goldfield Road near Southern Avenue.

This part of Arizona, about 35 miles east of downtown Phoenix, has been drought-free since late December. However, most of the Phoenix area hasn’t had a drop of rainfall since April 11 when Sky Harbor Airport (ICAO code: PHX) reported eight-hundredths of an inch, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). May is typically one of the driest months of the year in Phoenix, and there’s no rain in the forecast for the next week.