Arizona Wildfire Grows Along Highway Between Sedona, Flagstaff

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/ Source: Associated Press

Hundreds of firefighters were working to protect communities from a wildfire chewing up a scenic Arizona canyon Friday that had turned entire trees to ash.

The human-caused fire north of Slide Rock State Park has grown to about 7,500 acres since Tuesday, as about 900 firefighters and personnel were finally able to get about 5 percent of the blaze's southern end contained, officials said. The fire is concentrated in and around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation zone along a highway between Sedona and Flagstaff.

Flagstaff fire Capt. Bill Morse said Friday that the number of burned acres will continue to grow, but so will the containment numbers.

"It is important to understand this is all within our catcher's mitt," Morse said, adding, "We're going to be here for a while."

The fire grew tenfold from Wednesday and from 7½ square miles Thursday. There have been no reports so far of injuries or structures burned.

Fire incident commander Tony Sciacca said Thursday night that crews had made good progress, but he added, "We are not out of the woods yet."

The fire still was 3 to 3½ miles from the residential areas of Forest Highlands and Kachina Village, where 3,200 residents remained under pre-evacuation warnings.

U.S. Forest Service firefighting crews work hotspots Thursday near Sedona, Ariz.Vyto Starinskas / AP

Officials were mindful of the fire's dangers as they looked at giant flames shooting up the walls of the canyon and saw how hot the fire was burning in the tinder-dry drought conditions.

"The fuels are just so dry, entire trees are turning to ash," said Dick Fleishman, a spokesman for fire managers.

A primary focus of firefighting efforts will be to pinch off the fire where it has reached the top of the canyon's northeast corner to keep it from burning northward toward residential areas, he said.

The fire has closed the main road between Sedona and Flagstaff and forced the evacuations of 100 threatened businesses and homes in a 2-mile stretch north of Slide Rock State Park, a popular recreation area because of its natural rock water slides.

In southern Arizona, a wildfire on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation was fully contained Thursday after charring more than 200 acres. The fire southwest of Tucson was reported Tuesday night. Officials say no structures were damaged and no residents needed to be evacuated.

— The Associated Press