Slide Fire: 16,400 acres burned, 25% contained; pre-evac orders lifted

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by Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

3TV team coverage

Posted on May 26, 2014 at 5:57 PM

Updated Monday, May 26 at 5:57 PM

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Officials said Monday that they continued to make progress in controlling a wildfire burning in a northern Arizona canyon that typically would draw many visitors over the Memorial Day weekend.

The fire covered 21 square miles and is 25 percent contained, up from 5 percent just a couple of days ago.

At noon Monday, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office lifted the pre-evacuation notices for residents of the Kachina Village and Forest Highlands sub-divisions south of Flagstaff.

Evacuations remain in place in Oak Creek Canyon from Slide Rock State Park to Sterling Springs Hatchery.

"It will still be a lot of work to be done before those (containment) numbers will increase significantly," fire spokesman Rico Smith said.

The Slide Fire has grown in the last two days as crews set fires to rob the blaze of its natural forest fuels.

The human-caused fire has been burning since Tuesday around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation area along the highway between Sedona and Flagstaff that would normally be filled with tourists as Memorial Day approaches. Slide Rock State Park, one of the most-visited tourist spots in Arizona, has been closed.

The goals for fire managers are to protect the 300 structures threatened in Oak Creek Canyon, keep the fire from pushing into the communities of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village to the east, and minimize the potential for flooding.

Smith said that fire officials expect to lift a pre-evacuation warning at noon Monday for the 3,200 residents of those two communities. Mandatory evacuations will likely remain in place in Oak Creek Canyon from Slide Rock State Park to Sterling Springs Hatchery.

No homes have been destroyed.

Smith said firefighters were focused Sunday on strengthening containment lines and clearing debris on the western end. Crews planned to continue burnout operations, which mostly have been completed on the key northern flank.

Aerial drops of water and devices that ignite prescribed fires in areas officials intentionally want to burn also resumed Sunday, Smith said.

Progress on the fire will be contingent on the weather. Officials said rain and cloud cover Saturday night into Sunday morning lowered the blaze's intensity, and then burnout operations were able to continue as the humidity dropped later in the day.

An Arizona Department of Environmental Quality report said breezy winds may push smoke east of the fire Sunday and into Monday. According to the agency, people more sensitive to air quality who are in the village of Oak Creek and surrounding areas may want to reduce heavy outdoor activities.

In Sedona, officials said the surrounding air has been declared "very unhealthy" because of heavy smoke drifting south of the fire. As a result, anyone with asthma, lung disease or heart disease as well as the elderly and children should stay indoors.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Slide Fire grows significantly

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- A wildfire burning in rugged terrain in a northern Arizona canyon grew significantly because of fires intentionally set by crews to rob the blaze of its natural forest fuels, officials said Saturday.

Crews have mostly completed burnout operations on the key northern flank of the Slide Fire and are preparing to make similar protection efforts on the fire's western end. The burnout operations conducted Friday night by fire crews contributed to the heavy smoke over Sedona and Flagstaff.

"They are making progress. Having the humidity and cooler temperatures was certainly very helpful. But we are by no means done yet," Coronado National Forest Service information officer Gerry Perry said.

There's a chance of thunderstorms Saturday in the area that could bring much-needed moisture. But if such a storm doesn't produce any rain, its winds could fan the fire.

The size of the human-caused fire had reached 16 square miles by Saturday morning. It had grown nearly 5 square miles since the latest report on its size.

It's burning around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation area along the highway between Sedona and Flagstaff that would normally be filled with tourists as Memorial Day approaches. Slide Rock State Park, one of the most-visited tourist spots in Arizona, has been closed.

The goals for fire managers are to protect the 300 structures threatened in Oak Creek Canyon, keep the fire from pushing into the communities of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village to the east, and minimize the potential for flooding.

The Coconino County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Saturday that they expect to lift the warning on Monday for the 3,200 residents of those two communities. Mandatory evacuations will likely remain in place in Oak Creek Canyon from Slide Rock State Park to Sterling Springs Hatchery.

Perry said crews working Friday night also focused on building protection lines to handle a finger of fire that took off in west Oak Creek. There were no homes in the area, and crews have made solid progress in protecting that area, Perry said.

Crews cleared out brush and conducted burnout operations to protect a power line that supplies electricity to Flagstaff.

No homes have been destroyed. The fire is 5 percent contained.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Slide fire expected to nearly triple in size

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Firefighters say a wildfire burning through forested hillsides in a scenic northern Arizona canyon could dramatically expand as crews scramble to get the upper hand in less rugged terrain.

Wild land fire teams are going to allow the flames to burn through flatter lands and into a sort of catcher's mitt to the north and the west, Deputy Incident Commander Pruett Small said Friday. That means the fire could grow to nearly 36 square miles, nearly tripling in size.

The goals for fire managers are to protect the 300 structures threatened in Oak Creek Canyon, keep the fire from pushing into the communities of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village to the east, and minimize the potential for flooding.

Fire managers said the blaze has cost $2.2 million to fight as of Friday and might take up to 10 more days to fully control.

No injuries have been reported as a result of the fire and no structures have burned, according to fire incident commander Tony Sciacca.

He said the fire grew by 500 to 1,000 acres on Friday and remained at 5 percent contained as crews took advantage of cool and calm weather to carry out plans to choke off the blaze as Memorial Day travelers were forced to alter their travel plans because of the fire.

Hotshot crews marched along a winding highway that is a key front in their effort and set fire to the ground to rob the wildfire of fuel and keep it from crossing the road. Helicopters dropped explosive chemicals in the steepest parts of the canyon that firefighters can't reach. Crews on the plateau widened lines to the northwest where the fire was spreading.

"There might be a huge spike in size, but we want the public to know we're controlling the fire," fire spokesman Dillon Winiecki said "We are fighting it on our own terms."

The human-caused Slide Fire started Tuesday and by Friday had burned more than 11 square miles in and around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation area along the highway between Sedona and Flagstaff that normally would be filled with tourists as Memorial Day approaches. The cause is under investigation, but a campfire has been ruled out, said Coconino National Forest spokeswoman Heather Noel.

Slide Rock State Park is among the destinations that are closed. It is one of the most-visited tourist spots in Arizona, with swimming holes and natural water slides that draw tens of thousands of people during summer months.

Weather conditions for the fire over the next several days look favorable, with increased humidity and a chance of rain. Firefighters have established containment lines around 5 percent of the fire nearest to where it started just north of Slide Rock State Park.

Their work also included creating buffer zones around resorts and homes, putting in a sprinkler system around a fish hatchery in the canyon and quickly knocking down spot fires that escaped the main blaze.

Some 900 firefighters were assigned to the fire Friday.

The fire was moving away from Sedona, but that didn't ease concerns of business owners who worry the blaze will keep customers away from the premier tourist destination over the weekend.

The Sedona Chamber of Commerce has been fielding hundreds of inquiries via telephone and social media from people wondering if they should still visit during the holiday weekend and inquiring about the air quality, officials said.

Evacuations remain in place for a 2-mile stretch north of Slide Rock, and Highway 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona is closed. The fire was 3 to 3 1/2 miles away from the residential areas of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village, where 3,200 residents remained under pre-evacuation warnings.

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Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff, Paul Davenport, Terry Tang and Walter Berry in Phoenix contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- A wildfire burning in a scenic Arizona canyon is expected to nearly triple in size as crews scramble to get the upper hand in less rugged terrain.

Fire managers plan to let the flames that have been climbing and swirling about the canyon walls burn through flatter lands and into a sort of catcher's mitt to the north and the west, Deputy Incident Commander Pruett Small said Friday. That means the fire could grow to nearly 36 square miles if rain doesn't stop it.

"This is the roughest country in America," he said. "We can't send firefighters right next to the black and march them up a hill. We have to go around to the top and make a big box."

The goals for fire managers are to protect the 300 structures threatened in Oak Creek Canyon, keep the fire from pushing into the communities of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village to the east, and minimize the potential for flooding.

Firefighters took advantage of cool and calm weather Friday to carry out plans to choke off the blaze as Memorial Day travelers were forced to alter their travel plans because of the fire.

Hotshot crews marched along a winding highway that is a key front in their effort and set fire to the ground to rob the wildfire of fuel and keep it from crossing the road. Helicopters dropped explosive chemicals in the steepest parts of the canyon that firefighters can't reach. Crews on the plateau widened lines to the northwest where the fire was spreading.

"There might be a huge spike in size, but we want the public to know we're controlling the fire," fire spokesman Dillon Winiecki said "We are fighting it on our own terms."

The human-caused Slide Fire started Tuesday and by Friday had burned more than 11 square miles in and around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation area along the highway between Sedona and Flagstaff that normally would be filled with tourists as Memorial Day approaches. The cause is under investigation, but a campfire has been ruled out, said Coconino National Forest spokeswoman Heather Noel.

Slide Rock State Park is among the destinations that are closed. It is one of the most-visited tourist spots in Arizona, with swimming holes and natural water slides that draw tens of thousands of people during summer months.

"Literally as we speak, there are back burns and (they're) doing everything they can to save the resort," Bob Kittredge who owns Forest Houses Resort.

His resort, evacuated Tuesday, remains dangerously close to the fire's path.

"How nervous are you tonight?" asked 3TV Reporter Natalie Brand. "We've had a really good life up there. My dad came up in 1930. It's been a wonderful existence. If it's due to go, nothing we can do about it anyway."

However, Kittredge told 3TV he will not be sleeping well as the challenging fire fight continues in treacherous terrain.

"That's really nothing our firefighters can get in safely; you have rolling rocks, rolling trees...it's super steep. You don't move very fast either," said Operations Section Chief Rick Miller.

Weather conditions for the fire over the next several days look favorable, with increased humidity and a chance of rain. Firefighters have established containment lines around 5 percent of the fire nearest to where it started just north of Slide Rock State Park.

Their work also included creating buffer zones around resorts and homes, putting in a sprinkler system around a fish hatchery in the canyon and quickly knocking down spot fires that escaped the main blaze.

Some 900 firefighters were assigned to the fire Friday.

The fire was moving away from Sedona, but that didn't ease concerns of business owners who worry the blaze will keep customers away from the premier tourist destination over the weekend.

The Sedona Chamber of Commerce has been fielding hundreds of inquiries via telephone and social media from people wondering if they should still visit during the holiday weekend and inquiring about the air quality, officials said.

Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Wesselhoff said smoke from the fire has been visible from about 3 a.m. to 9 a.m., but the skies clear up as soon as the sun emerges. She said visitors can still go hiking along more than 200 miles of trails.

Evacuations remain in place for a 2-mile stretch north of Slide Rock, and Highway 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona is closed. The fire was 3 to 3 1/2 miles away from the residential areas of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village, where 3,200 residents remained under pre-evacuation warnings.

No injuries have been reported as a result of the fire. No structures have burned.

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Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff, Paul Davenport, Terry Tang and Walter Berry in Phoenix contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Cooler, calmer weather aids Arizona firefighters
By FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Firefighters took advantage of cooler, calmer weather Friday to get an upper hand on a blaze burning in a scenic Arizona canyon as Memorial Day travelers were forced to alter their travel plans because of the fire.

Hotshot crews marched along a winding highway that is a key front in their effort and set fire to the ground to rob the wildfire of fuel and keep it from crossing the road. Helicopters dropped explosive chemicals in the steepest parts of the canyon that firefighters can't reach. Crews were also busy widening a line that would keep the fire from burning toward residential areas.

"There might be a huge spike in size, but we want the public to know we're controlling the fire," fire spokesman Dillon Winiecki said "We are fighting it on our own terms."

The human-caused Slide Fire started Tuesday and by Friday had burned more than 11 1/2 square miles in and around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation zone along the highway between Sedona and Flagstaff that normally would be filled with tourists as Memorial Day approaches.

Slide Rock State Park is among the destinations that are closed. It is one of the most-visited tourist spots in Arizona, with swimming holes and natural water slides that draw tens of thousands of people during summer months.

Weather conditions for the fire over the next several days look favorable, with increased humidity and a chance of rain. Firefighters established containment lines around 5 percent of the fire nearest to where it started just north of Slide Rock State Park.

Crews were making good progress in keeping the blaze from getting closer to communities south of Flagstaff, incident commander Tony Sciacca said. Their work includes a putting a sprinkler system around a fish hatchery in the canyon that can be turned on if the fire approaches, creating a buffer zone near a power line and quickly knocking down any spot fires that escape the main blaze.

Some 900 firefighters were assigned to the fire Friday.

The fire was moving away from Sedona, but that didn't ease concerns of business owners who worry the blaze will keep customers away from the premier tourist destination over the weekend.

The Sedona Chamber of Commerce has been fielding hundreds of inquiries via telephone and social media from people wondering if they should still visit during the holiday weekend and inquiring about the air quality, officials said.

Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Wesselhoff said smoke from the fire has been visible from about 3 a.m. to 9 a.m., but the skies clear up as soon as the sun emerges. She said visitors can still go hiking along more than 200 miles of trails.

Evacuations remain in place for a 2-mile stretch north of Slide Rock, and Highway 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona is closed. The fire was 3 to 3 1/2 miles away from the residential areas of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village, where 3,200 residents remained under pre-evacuation warnings.

No injuries have been reported as a result of the fire. None of the 300 threatened structures have burned.

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Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff, Paul Davenport, Terry Tang and Walter Berry in Phoenix contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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