Crews making headway on Tinder Fire following destruction of 33 homes

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Fueled by grass and understory, the wildfire in Coconino National Forest stretches over an estimated 15,841 acres. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Fueled by grass and understory, the wildfire in Coconino National Forest stretches over an estimated 15,841 acres. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

By Arizona's Family News Staff, Eric Levenson and Amir Vera, CNN

COCONINO COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5/CNN) - The sprawling Tinder Fire in Arizona has destroyed 33 primary homes and 54 minor structures since it was sparked by an abandoned illegal campfire two weeks ago, officials said.

Fueled by grass and understory, the wildfire in Coconino National Forest stretches over an estimated 15,841 acres. With the efforts of about 125 personnel with equipment - including 3 crews, 1 helicopter, 6 engines, 3 dozers and other support staff - the blaze is 79 percent contained, officials said.

[RELATED: Residents head back home after Tinder Fire evacuations]

The Coconino County Sheriff's Office had ordered evacuations last week for communities north, east and west of Highway 87. The evacuation order for communities in Blue Ridge were lifted on Friday, and residents began returning to their homes.

“You have people come out of the Valley who don’t realize people live here, and they start fires and then they leave and they get to go home,” said resident Brian Brakefield.  “We all get to run around and play in the smoke.”

The potential for fire activity still exists around the fire area, officials said. Existing pockets of fuel continue to burn within the fire perimeter and logs and stumps continue to hold heat and burn.

[MORE: Tinder Fire evacuees to be allowed to return home on Friday, fire 48% contained]

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Coconino County last week in response to the fire. He said in a statement it would ensure "the necessary resources to protect the lives, pets and property of Arizonans."

Patrol, mop-up of hot spots, and suppression-repair work continue, fire officials said. The repairs minimize fire suppression impacts on the landscape and mitigate soil erosion.

Fire restrictions were ignored

Finding the person or persons who set the illegal fire will be difficult because witnesses are "often nonexistent," Coconino National Forest authorities said.

The fire was reported last Friday while stage one fire restrictions were in place. Those restrictions prohibit "building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire" anywhere other than a developed campsite or picnic area. The restrictions were put in place in expectation of extreme fire potential due to weather conditions.

[RELATED: Illegal campfire to blame for starting Tinder Fire, investigators say]

Stage two restrictions, which prohibit campfires anywhere, have been in effect since Tuesday.

"Any time we enter restrictions or have even closed the forest, we still continue to find abandoned and illegal campfires," said Andy Pederson, with US Forest Service. "This shows extreme lack of care for public safety and our natural resources when people would have an illegal campfire, much less abandon an illegal campfire."

Above normal temperatures this week

There is a warming trend for the entire Southwest region going into the week. Temperatures in and around the Tinder Fire area will run 10-15 degrees above normal for this time of year.

[SPECIAL SECTION: More on Arizona Wildfires]

Fire officials said remaining hot spots may spread within the fire's perimeter as the warmer and drier conditions continue during the week.

CNN's Emily Smith, Keith Allen, Chris Boyette and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

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