A wind-whipped wildfire in Oak Creek Canyon near Flagstaff dramatically increased in size Wednesday as it sent up choking plumes of smoke, threatened homes and scuttled Memorial Day weekend plans in the popular hiking and camping area.
Hundreds of firefighters poured into northern Arizona to battle the fire between Sedona and Flagstaff, and by Wednesday afternoon, the fire grew to an estimated 4,500 acres.
The fire threatens 300 structures north of Slide Rock State Park, which is closed.
Authorities also warned about 3,200 residents in communities near Flagstaff that they should be ready to evacuate if the fire makes another advance.
The blaze presented several challenges for firefighters, including steep terrain, thick pine forest, erratic and gusting winds and the drought conditions, said Bill Morse, a Flagstaff Fire Department captain and a spokesman for firefighting managers. The winds helped the fire race 2,000 feet up the canyon and to a plateau areaa. “Extreme fire behavior” was reported by incident commanders.
The fire broke out Tuesday at the start of the tourist season and closed the main road between Sedona and Flagstaff.
About 500 firefighters and other personnel are already assigned to the fire, including 15 Hotshot crews. But windy conditions forced firefighters to briefly halt air resources such as retardant. They were flying again Wednesday evening. Crews were focused on keeping the fire west of a highway near threatened homes.
There were no reports of injuries or structures burned. The cause of the fire wasn’t known, but authorities believe it was human-caused.
The fire forced the evacuations of 100 businesses and homes in a 2-mile stretch north of the state park. The communities of Kachina Village and Forest Highlands were told that they need to be ready to evacuate.
Several wind-whipped wildfires are blazing across public lands and Indian reservations around the state as the Memorial Day weekend approaches:
- Skunk Fire
- — The lightning-caused fire on the San Carlos Apache Reservation east of Globe had burned 33,548 acres by Wednesday.
- Badger Fire
- — The human-caused fire was burning north of Phoenix near mile marker 255 on Interstate 17 near the Badger Springs Exit. It has scorched 500 acres.
- Barlow Fire
- — The fire, burning about 30 miles east of San Carlos on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, had consumed 1,163 acres. The cause is under investigation.
- The 450-acre Research Fire was burning near Elgin. The grass fire was being fought primarily by crews on foot after high winds grounded air tankers Wednesday. The fire was 30 percent contained.
- Other smaller fires were burning north of Fort Huachuca, and on the Tohono O’odham Reservation southwest of Tucson. That fire was about 200 acres south of Arizona 86 and east of Sells.
- A forest fire about 30 miles east of Payson near Woods Canyon Lake in northern Arizona burned at least 150 acres Wednesday.
- Here is information you’ll need to know if you will be traveling to areas with active fires or visiting public lands with fire restrictions.
LEARN ABOUT RESTRICTIONS
Travelers, campers and other recreation enthusiasts can learn about fire restrictions by visiting this website: firerestrictions.us/az/
Also, check www.az511.gov for road closures, especially in fire areas.
INFORMATION ON FIRES
For updated information on wildfires in Arizona, go to inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/3/#
Windy weather is expected to continue today in Southeastern Arizona, with highs near 90 in Tucson. There’s a 10 percent chance of rain Friday. The weather in Sedona today is expected to be mainly sunny with gusty winds. Showers and thunderstorms were possible through the weekend.