Locust fire: No evacuations ordered today

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By Natalie Flanzer By Natalie Flanzer
By Natalie Rivers By Natalie Rivers
By Natalie Flanzer By Natalie Flanzer
By Natalie Flanzer By Natalie Flanzer
By Natalie Flanzer By Natalie Flanzer

WHITERIVER, Ariz. - Just as firefighting crews had gained the upper hand on a wildfire in the northern Arizona town of Whiteriver, the flames flared back up on Saturday growing rapidly in size.

The wildfire, dubbed the Locust Fire, has now grown to 300 acres and as of last report about 30 percent contained. FIrefighters had previously overestimated the size at 500 acres.

About 100 firefighters from the area are battling the blaze along with air tankers and hot shot crews.

The areas of Whiskey Flat, Yucca Flat and Rainbow City were evacuated on Saturday, but have since been allowed to return.

On Friday, the fire had only charred about 70 acres of heavy brush and no homes were burned, although the flames almost came knocking on Bettina Tenijieth's door.

"You could hear the crackling noises, it was spinning in circles and you could feel the heat," she said.

No word on whether any homes have been burned in Saturday's flare up.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety has again closed State Route 73 because of smoke in the area.

Authorities say the fire appears to be human-caused and federal officials are investigating it.

Officials say this could be one of the worst fire seasons in a decade.

"The fuel moisture, the humidity, the weather patterns, is all similar to 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire," said Jonathan Brooks, Tribal Fire Manager.

Conditions are expected to be even worse on Sunday for crews battling this blaze.

"We are in the moderate to high [fire danger range] for the whole region but we are not under a red flag because we do not have the winds but tomorrow we are anticipating some reg flag conditions," Brooks said.

The Red Cross shelter remains open at the Chief Alchesay Activity Center located at 422 S. 2nd Avenue in Whiteriver.

The Red Cross is bringing in volunteers from St. Johns and Payson to operate the shelter.

Electricity continues to be interrupted to the area due to the fire, along with telephone service.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the area until 9 p.m. Sunday amid other wind advisories issued throughout the state, which could make getting the blaze under control difficult for firefighters.