Fire burning near Slide Rock prompts evacuations - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Slide Fire rages near Sedona, believed to be human-caused

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OAK CREEK CANYON, Ariz. - The Slide Fire has burned more than 10,600 acres and is now 5% contained. The wildfire is located north of Highway 89 near the Slide Rock State Park, according to officials.

Officials say 975 personnel are working the fire on Saturday, including 36 crews, 46 engines, three air tankers, nine helicopters, two air attack planes, and other resources. Air tankers were grounded Wednesday because of high winds.

The human-caused Slide Fire began Tuesday and has burned at least 7.5 square miles in and around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation area along a highway between Sedona and Flagstaff.

Fire management team spokesman Dick Fleischman says a primary focus of firefighting efforts Thursday will be to pinch off the fire where it has reached the top of the canyon's northeast corner to keep it from burning into the Flagstaff area.

Type 1 incident commander Tony Sciacca says crews were able to burn out the northeast side of the fire, but they are by no means "out of the woods." The progress allows crews to have an anchor to battle the rest of the flames.

Crews issued an evacuation order for several hundred residents located north of the Slide Rock State Park area. About 100 structures were ordered to evacuate, which include private homes, resort cabins and a Forest Service Lookout tower.

Authorities on Wednesday warned about 3,200 residents in Forest Highlands and Kachina Village subdivision, south of Flagstaff, that they need to be ready to evacuate if the fire makes another advance.

There are no reports so far of injuries or structures burned.

Brady Smith with the Coconino National Forest said that fuel treatments that have been done in the past have helped slow the progress of the fire.

As the fire moved up the canyon's steep walls, it sent up large amounts of smoke and ash and created hazy conditions in Flagstaff, about 10 miles from the blaze.

The blaze presented several challenges for firefighters, including steep terrain, thick pine forest, gusting winds and a drought that has left parts of Arizona tinder-dry, said Bill Morse, a Flagstaff Fire Department captain and a spokesman for firefighting managers. He also said the terrain makes it difficult for firefighters to stay in contact with each other on their radios.

Morse said calming fire conditions in Southern California have freed up extra crews to fight the Arizona fire.

"Fortunately the fires in San Diego have calmed down enough for the resources to be released here," Morse said.

In addition, The Silver City Daily Press reports that some of the hotshot crews working on New Mexico's Signal Fire will likely head to the fire.

Fire officials have designated Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff as shelter for anyone displaced, the shelter is located at 3950 E. Butler Avenue.

Red Cross spokeswoman Trudy Thompson Rice said most of the 15 people who stayed Tuesday night at the shelter at a Flagstaff school were campers.

"We had a lot more than that -- maybe 30 -- come in to register and let us know where they were," she said Wednesday.

The evacuees at the Flagstaff shelter included Nathan and Mickella Westerfield, young honeymooners from Phoenix who arrived at a campground in the canyon Tuesday afternoon.

They were headed into Sedona for dinner when they passed the fire, which was burning shrubs and trees in a small valley visible from the highway.

Other passers-by had stopped to take pictures of the fire, Nathan Westerfield said.

"It didn't even seem like it was a big deal," but a firefighter told the couple they couldn't return to their campground to retrieve their newly purchasing camping gear and other belongings, Westerfield said.

"He told us, 'no, we're evacuating,'" he said. "We literally have the clothes on our backs."

Highway 89-A remains closed while emergency crews work to control the fire.

If you saw anything suspicious or have any information on who may have caused the fire, you're asked to call 928-527-3511.

Get full wildfire coverage here:

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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