Team investigates cause of Slide Fire

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Posted on May 27, 2014 at 3:49 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 28 at 11:10 AM

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- A team of investigators from the U.S. Forest Service's law enforcement wing worked Tuesday to determine the cause of the Slide Fire between Flagstaff and Sedona, relying in part on dozens of tips from callers.

Coconino National Forest spokesman Brady Smith said federal officials could not reveal details of the investigation but believe the fire is human-caused. The five-person team was at the scene of the blaze.

"They feel good about the progress that they've made so far," Smith said.

The Slide Fire has burned about 32 square miles and continues to grow, stifling tourism in parts of the Sedona area, which usually is busy with visitors this time of year. Slide Rock State Park, one of Arizona's most-visited tourist spots, has been closed since the fire began May 20.

Smith says investigators have received about 80 tips from callers. It could still take months for them to pinpoint exactly how the fire began.

"It really depends on the types of tips that we get in and the information we're able to gather right off the bat," Smith said. "Some fires go unsolved forever."

Dick Mangan, a retired Forest Service safety official who is now a wildfire consultant, said investigations into the origins of wildfires like the one in northern Arizona usually require vast resources.

"The basic concept is, first of all, to try to figure out where the fire probably started and literally keep all of your options open," Mangan said. "Just because there was a logging operation there doesn't mean it was a logger. Just because it was near a campground doesn't mean it was a camper.

"You try to go into it with a clean sheet of music and use a process of elimination."

Mangan said investigations can sometimes cost more money than actual fire suppression, and officials usually go after the perpetrators if they find one.

If Slide Fire investigators are able to track down whoever is responsible for the blaze, federal officials likely would arrest them and turn over the case to prosecutors.

They probably would seek to recuperate the costs of fighting the fire, Mangan said.

More than 1,000 firefighters have worked on the Slide Fire, which has threatened 300 structures and caused evacuations in Oak Creek Canyon from Slide Rock State Park to Sterling Springs Hatchery.

No homes have been destroyed.

Crews established a containment line around the entire fire by Tuesday. However, the official containment figure remained at 35 percent because some areas still had active low-intensity fire while others remained hot to the touch.

Fire managers were working to protect the threatened structures, keep the fire from pushing into the communities of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village to the east, and minimize the potential for flooding.

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

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Slide Fire continues to grow within containment line

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- The Slide Fire burning in and around Oak Creek Canyon in northern Arizona continues to grow in size even though firefighters have established a containment line around all of it.

The fire's size increased from 28.9 square miles Monday evening to 31.7 square miles Tuesday morning due to burnout operations intended to deprive the fire of fuel.

The fire's official containment figure remains at 35 percent because some areas within the containment line still have active low-intensity fire while others remain hot to the touch.

The number of firefighters and other personnel assigned to the fire is now below 1,100, down from more than 1,200.

Fire management spokeswoman Jan Bardwell says some crews are being reassigned because there's less work to do.

The human-caused fire started May 20.

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Crews work on unprotected end of Slide Fire

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Crews fighting a wildfire in a northern Arizona canyon focused Monday on building containment lines along the last unprotected stretch of the blaze.

Firefighters will build 3 miles of protection lines on the southern end of the Slide Fire after having completed much of their work on the blaze's key northern and western flanks.

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 crowded with tourists Memorial Day weekend. Slide Rock State Park, one of the most-visited tourist spots in Arizona, has been closed.

No homes have been destroyed.

The fire covered more than 25 square miles and was 25 percent contained by Monday morning. It had grown more than 3 square miles since the latest report on its 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 two subdivisions to the east and minimize the potential for flooding.

Though warmer temperatures and drier air are expected Monday, lower temperatures and higher humidity made the fire less intense over the last few days.

"It was perfect timing," said fire information officer Manny Cordova. "It allowed us to make good progress."

Authorities lifted a pre-evacuation warning Monday for 3,200 people living in the Forest Highlands and Kachina Village subdivisions. Mandatory evacuations will likely remain in place in Oak Creek Canyon from Slide Rock State Park to Sterling Springs Hatchery.

Crews completed their efforts to protect a power line that supplies electricity to Flagstaff.

Officials say it has cost $3.5 million so far to fight the fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Food, water donations overwhelm Arizona fire crews

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Officials say material donations aren't necessary for crews fighting a wildfire burning in a popular northern Arizona canyon.

Coconino County officials and the managers for the Slide Fire said Sunday storage areas are at maximum capacity.

County spokesman Nathan Gonzalez says the agencies managing the blaze appreciate the numerous contributions including food, water and socks.

Gonzalez says anyone who wants to assist firefighting efforts can donate money or time to nonprofits such as the American Red Cross or the United Way of Northern Arizona.

The human-caused fire has been burning since Tuesday around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation area along the highway connecting Sedona and Flagstaff.

It has grown to 21 square miles and is 10 percent contained.

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

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