PORTAL - The blaze in the rugged Chiricahua Mountains has grown to more than 10,000 acres and firefighters are working to protect area homes and structures.

Some evacuees from the fire-threatened Portal area gathered in Rodeo, N.M.

The Horseshoe 2 fire, a human-caused blaze has been burning since Sunday.

"It's a stressful and trying time," said Jim Upchurch, Coronado National Forest supervisor, when he addressed the gathering of about 100 area residents. "Mother Nature can take its toll and do what it wants at times."

Joe Reinarz, incident manager for the fire, said the blaze was behaving with more wind-whipped intensity than the Horseshoe Fire in the same area last year.

"We're dealing with a different animal here," Reinarz said.

He made no predictions about how long it would take to control the fire, but said a decrease in windy conditions by Wednesday could aid in the effort.

There are about 300 people working the wildfire.

For residents of Portal, about 90 miles east of Tucson, and the surrounding Cave Creek Canyon area, the fire was a fearsome sight. Some chose to decline a recommendation to evacuate immediately. Others decamped in a hurry.

Esther Hollowell, who lives on the east side of Portal, decided to stick it out Monday and hope the fire avoided her home.

Others, including Bob Weaver and John Barthelme, volunteers at the Southwestern Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History in Cave Creek Canyon, heeded evacuation warnings.

"It was quite an awakening" at 12:15 a.m. Monday when officials awoke research station residents with an evacuation warning, Weaver said.

"We decided to go," Weaver said. "Better safe than sorry."

Sherry Nelson, who operates an art instruction business in Portal, said she packed up and left at 3 a.m. Monday after getting an evacuation warning.

"The mountain was just glowing red all around us," Nelson said. "It was very unnerving."

Tom Snyder, who lives at the mouth of Horseshoe Canyon just miles from the origin of the fire, said he noticed just a small plume of smoke at about 9 a.m. Sunday.

"By noon, it looked like the whole mountain was on fire," Snyder said.

Twenty-nine people had checked in at the Rodeo evacuation center as of Monday evening, said Courtney Trabon, a volunteer with the American Red Cross. It wasn't clear how many would stay at the center. Many others planned to spend the night with friends or family members in Rodeo.

"What I noticed is how well people are handling this in the face of such adversity," Trabon said. "They're calm, given the fact that they could lose everything."

For longtime residents of the area, the blaze is the latest in a disconcerting series of fires in recent years.

"The fires seem to be getting worse every year," said resident Patricia Rivers. "If this keeps up, the Chiricahua Mountains will be burned bare."

Did you know

Last year's Horseshoe Fire, in about the same area of the Chiricahua Mountains, started in late May and burned more than 3,400 acres.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192.