Oak Creek Canyon residents return after Slide Fire evacuation

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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

SEDONA, Ariz. (AP) -- Northern Arizona residents and business owners began returning home Thursday, more than a week after a major wildfire forced them to evacuate.

The evacuation order was lifted at 1 p.m., and several people began heading to their property, Coconino County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Erika Wiltenmuth said.

The Slide Fire began May 20 near Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff.

About 300 residents and business owners in all had to leave their property, Coconino County spokesman Nathan Gonzalez said.

Residents must show identification to sheriff's deputies at a roadblock before being allowed to enter their neighborhoods. Access to Highway 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona will be restricted through 6 p.m. Friday for residents and business owners, authorities said.

Homeowners can begin cleaning up any debris as well as food that has been sitting in refrigerators without power, authorities added.

Wiltenmuth said that if residents don't find significant damage and want to remain in their homes, they are free to do so. But they cannot go onto forested areas, which authorities have declared off-limits.

Electricity is expected to be restored to all homes in the affected area by 4 p.m. Friday. About 150 Arizona Public Service employees have been working to bring back power. So far, about 90 of 236 Oak Creek Canyon customers have been reconnected to electricity, the utility said.

Some residents, such as Tom Gebler, have chosen not to join the initial rush of people eager to see their homes.

Gebler, a flooring designer, said a sheriff's official escorted him two days after the fire broke out so he could retrieve more things from his home. Gebler said he and his wife, Sally, didn't see any structural or aesthetic damage.

"There's the curiosity of wanting to know. But whether we find out today, tomorrow or Saturday, it isn't going to change what we're going to see," Gebler said. "Also, we are waiting to hear about when the power is going to come back on."

A Phoenix native, Gebler made the home his grandfather built his permanent residence in 2007. The only possessions he needs to move back in are family antiques, artwork and photos, Gebler said.

"As scary and as bad as this all was, we've come out pretty well," he said.

The fire has burned nearly 33 square miles so far, but containment has reached 55 percent. The cost of fighting the fire is estimated at $8 million.

Officials have not decided when Pine Flat Campground, which is in the canyon, will reopen.

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