Hundreds displaced by wildfire near Prescott

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) -- Firefighters largely kept control of a blaze burning in Arizona's Prescott National Forest and spared any homes from destruction but were preparing for what should be another windy, hot day Thursday.

The wildfire that has burned nearly 8 square miles just west of Prescott had moved into people's backyards and has forced the evacuation of 460 homes. A DC-10 tanker capable of dropping 17,000 gallons of fire retardant at a time over dense brush and timber was helping to keep the fire away from homes, incident commander Tony Sciacca said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, crews anchored the fire on the south end, while other aircraft attacked it on the north under red flag conditions, and dozers built lines on the western side.

"The bottom line is we're holding our own," Sciacca said.

The fire that broke out before noon Tuesday remained at zero percent containment. Fire officials had estimated it at nearly 11 square miles but put it at under 8 after infrared mapping, which will be repeated overnight Wednesday.

Winds from the southwest were pushing the fire north toward American Ranch, an equestrian community once home to 1970s pop music duo Captain and Tennille.

The steep, rocky terrain with flashy, flammable fuels on Granite Mountain was challenging firefighters who were trying to bring the blaze to flatter land to minimize potential harm, Sciacca said.

Flames broke through the smoke Wednesday afternoon as helicopters picked up water from a local pond and dropped it on the mountain.

Jennifer and Kent Fairbairn are among those who evacuated from American Ranch, watching the fire quickly move over a ridge within a few hours while they packed and fled once they saw flames. They praised firefighters for the work done.

"We're very confident they did an amazing job," Jennifer Fairbairn said. "Locally, we're mostly concerned about when we're getting home. You wonder if you're going to have a home to go to."

Said Kent Fairbairn: "It could be so much worse, you just have to keep it in perspective."

Like firefighting crews, the Fairbairns were closely watching the wind that is expected to gust to 30 mph Thursday. No injuries have been reported but health officials warned that smoke in nearby Chino Valley had hit dangerous levels and advised residents with respiratory problems to stay inside with air conditioning.

A shelter was set up at a local community college but few people stayed there.

Others were waiting Wednesday along a road closed to the general public and at a general store parking lot to see if they'd eventually be counted among the evacuees.

"We and all our neighbors are all worrying," said Cheryl Lutes.

She and her husband, Greg, live about 4 miles from the fire and have gathered important documents and made a list of things to grab if they're told they need to go. It includes medicine, phones, chargers and telescopes.

Bud Bidwell said he'll hold out until he sees smoke cross the roadway. He's received two automated phone calls from authorities so far.

"If it gets down to these flats, we've got our travel trailer with all the guns and stuff loaded up," he said.

Orange flags were hung on newspaper delivery boxes, fences and homes as a sign of those who heeded the call to leave. Sheriff's officials say there are some holdouts and additional evacuations are possible.

The blaze was human caused, but fire officials haven't determined exactly how it started.

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