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Firefighters say a wildfire burning through forested hillsides in a scenic northern Arizona canyon could dramatically expand as crews scramble to get the upper hand in less rugged terrain.
Wild land fire teams are going to allow the flames to burn through flatter lands and into a sort of catcher's mitt to the north and the west, Deputy Incident Commander Pruett Small said Friday. That means the fire could grow to nearly 36 square miles, nearly tripling in size.
The goals for fire managers are to protect the 300 structures threatened in Oak Creek Canyon, keep the fire from pushing into the communities of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village to the east, and minimize the potential for flooding.
Fire managers said the blaze has cost $2.2 million to fight as of Friday and might take up to 10 more days to fully control.
No injuries have been reported as a result of the fire and no structures have burned, according to fire incident commander Tony Sciacca.
He said the fire grew by 500 to 1,000 acres on Friday and remained at 5 percent contained as crews took advantage of cool and calm weather to carry out plans to choke off the blaze as Memorial Day travelers were forced to alter their travel plans because of the fire.
Hotshot crews marched along a winding highway that is a key front in their effort and set fire to the ground to rob the wildfire of fuel and keep it from crossing the road. Helicopters dropped explosive chemicals in the steepest parts of the canyon that firefighters can't reach. Crews on the plateau widened lines to the northwest where the fire was spreading.
"There might be a huge spike in size, but we want the public to know we're controlling the fire," fire spokesman Dillon Winiecki said "We are fighting it on our own terms."
The human-caused Slide Fire started Tuesday and by Friday had burned more than 11 square miles in and around Oak Creek Canyon. The cause is under investigation.