Gladiator Fire grows to more than 8,100 acres

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Tess Rafols

Posted on May 17, 2012 at 7:25 AM

Updated Friday, May 18 at 5:36 AM

Map: Crown King, Ariz.

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Map: Bradshaw Mountain H.S.

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Map: Mayer High School

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CROWN KING, Ariz. -- The Gladiator Fire raging near Crown King is estimated at more than 8,100 acres, and it's expected to keep growing in the coming days.  Red Flag winds are expected to fuel the flames through the weekend as gusts will be whipping 40-45 mph

"This is a really fast-moving fire," Karen Takai of the Southwest Area Incident Management Team said Thursday morning. "Yesterday afternoon was explosive as it came across the road."

The thick cloud of smoke hovering over the Bradshaw Mountains is visible for miles, and as far south as North Phoenix.

The fire had grown to approximately 8,166 acres. Containment remains at just 5 percent. That contained area borders Crown King.

To prepare for a tough battle ahead, an additional 140 or so firefighters have bee bnrought in. There are now 640 men and women assigned to the Gladiator Fire.  It's considered the top priority fire in the country, so resources keep arriving.  They're working shifts of 12 to 16 hours. There are 16 engines, six helicopters and six air tankers battling the monster fire from every possible angle.  

Because the terrain in the Prescott National Forest is rugged and dangerous, access on the ground is difficult at best during the day and nearly impossible at night.

The fire claimed a home Wednesday, bringing the total number of structures burned to four.

Three firefighters have been injured on the fire lines. One was burned. The other two suffered dehydration and heat-related symptoms.

Fire crews arrived in the community of Pine Flat Thursday morning, to help residents clear fire fuels away from their homes.   The homeowners have not yet been evacuated, like their neighbors in Crown King, but around 40 homes in the area could be in the fire's path, depending on the winds.

Winds have been driving the flames almost since the fire started. 

The National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch which remains in place through Friday. The watch covers a large portion of Northern Arizona, including the Crown King area.

The good news is that the forecast winds should push the fire further north, away from Crown King.

"As that pushes north, it'll buy a little time for our hot shots to go in and dig a little more line near that area where we have a lot of heavy fuels," Takai explained.

Fire managers refer to that area as "The Bowl."

The concern has been that the fire will move down into The Bowl once the winds die down and then make a run up to the communications towers

The historic mountain town of Crown King, which is home to about 350 people, will remain under a mandatory evacuation order for the foreseeable future. At this point, there's no estimate on when people might be able to return home The communitiies of Cleator and Pine Flats have also been given a 72-hour notice that they could eventually have to evacuate if the flames get close,

The Red Cross says all evacuees are staying with friends, family, or at campsite, so the agency closed its overnight accommodations.   Showers and food will be available during the day for evacuees.

The Gladiator Fire started late Sunday morning as a house fire. That fire spread to a second home and caused a propane tank to explode, sending flames into the surrounding forest area.

So far, it's cost about $2.8 Million dollars to battle this beast. With no end in site, that number expected to climb.

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