Fire crews struggled with hot, dry and windy weather Monday as they fought to protect hundreds of homes and businesses from a 1,500-acre wildfire creeping into northern Arizona’s scenic Oak Creek Canyon.
The fire started Sunday and spread quickly, forcing the evacuation of about 400 homes and businesses in the narrow canyon and about 100 homes in five subdivisions on the rugged north side of Sedona. The fire was 5 percent contained late Monday afternoon, officials said.
“We need some rain in the worst way here and our monsoons aren’t due to start till after July 4, it’s been my experience. So, pray for rain,” said Serge Wright, an optometrist whose home wasn’t one of those that was evacuated.
The temperature rose into the upper 90s by early afternoon, with a forecast of very low humidity and winds of 10 to 20 mph.
By early afternoon, flames had edged about 300 feet below the rim of the canyon in spots and were about a half-mile from some homes, said Connie Birkland, a spokeswoman for fire crews. No buildings had been damaged yet.
The estimate of the burned area had been reduced from 3,000 acres to about 1,500 after more precise mapping during the day, another spokeswoman said. Authorities believe the blaze started in a camp used by transients.
Oak Creek Canyon, more than 90 miles north of Phoenix, holds scattered homes, hotels, resorts and stores.
“I’m a little apprehensive,” said Sedona Mayor Pud Colquitt, one of the evacuees from Oak Creek Canyon. “It’s a wait-and-see now.”
In neighboring New Mexico, four fires started by lightning had burned more than 30,000 acres in the tinder-dry Gila National Forest in the southwestern part of the state. The biggest of the three had charred nearly 11,000 acres and threatened 150 homes in the Lake Roberts area. Residents will be allowed to return Tuesday, said fire information officer Shayna Carney.
Two new blazes were reported Monday in New Mexico: Lightning caused the Rivera Mesa fire, which consumed 1,500 acres in Mora County in the northwestern part of the state; while a 6,000-acre fire east of Alma in Catron County prompted evacuations of homes and campgrounds in the little-populated Willow Creek, Snow Lake and N-Bar Ranch areas.
In southern Colorado, a wildfire burning in dry, thick forest exploded in size Monday as flames as high as 200-feet moved across 4,500 acres about 10 miles northeast of Fort Garland, forcing firefighters to pull back and officials to order the evacuation of hundreds of homes within a 20-mile radius. Another blaze in southwest Morgan County was burning about 1,200 acres of grass and pasture.
In California, a brush fire spread over 7,500 acres in hilly terrain near Los Padres National Forest. The fire damaged one outbuilding, said Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Keith Cullom. No injuries were reported.
Wildfires have burned more than 3.1 million acres nationwide so far this year, well ahead of the average of about 900,000 acres by this time, the National Interagency Fire Center reported. Huge grass fires that swept Texas and Oklahoma this spring account for a large part of this year’s acreage.