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Arizona wildfires: Five fires mark start of 2012 wildfire season (+video)

Arizona fire crews spent the weekend fighting five wildfires – including two in Tonto National Forest – covering more than four square miles. 

Firefighting crews take on the first big wildfires of 2012 in Arizona.
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Crews across Arizona spent the weekend fighting several wildfires, including one south of Payson that had grown to more than 4 square miles and another north of Phoenix that led authorities to order evacuations in a historic mining community.

A total of five wildfires in the state had charred more than 9 square miles by late Sunday, the Arizona Republic reported. The fires follow a recent warning from state land managers that hot May temperatures and dry vegetation have created a very high fire risk in some areas.

"Everything between the (Mogollon) Rim is ready to burn now from Kingman to Douglas," said Jim Paxon, a spokesman for the state Game and Fish Department who worked 34 years as a firefighter with the National Forest Service.

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The Sunflower fire, the state's biggest, was first spotted Saturday morning in Tonto National Forest. It had burned about 2,700 acres, or 4 square miles, in an area about 20 miles south of Payson as hotshot crews, air tankers and helicopters worked to contain it Sunday.

Billowing smoke from that fire and another to the west near Crown King could be seen in Phoenix.

The Gladiator Fire about 4 miles north of Crown King ignited on private land next to the Prescott National Forest in the Bradshaw Mountains. Yavapai County authorities said Sunday night that the town was not directly threatened by the wind-stoked fire, but a mandatory evacuation order remained in place.

Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said in a release that most of the town's 350 residents had chosen to remain in town despite the order.

The fire damaged two buildings and was burning on about 300 acres, he said. There were no estimates on containment.

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