Five elite Hotshot fire crews have descended on northern Arizona to fight a wildfire that has devoured at least 450 acres since Tuesday — and is creeping up a canyon toward at least 100 homes and businesses, officials said.
About 200 firefighters and personnel, including the Hotshot battalions, are fighting north of Slide Rock State Park. They'll be joined by another 15 Hotshot crews in the coming days, The Associated Press reported.
The firefighters are also tackling a second, smaller brush fire that has consumed about 100 acres of the rugged terrain.
A danger area of potential wildfires spans from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, because of low humidity and sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour, forecasters warned Wednesday.
There was still zero containment of the Slide Rock fire early Wednesday, while the brush fire was about 20 percent under control, Forest Service officials said. They believe the fires may have been caused by humans.
“Fire activity is … now concentrating on moving up the steep canyon walls,” officials said in a Wednesday morning bulletin. “Resources are stationed above and below the fire. Smoke is heavy through Oak Creek Canyon and creating very hazy conditions in Flagstaff.”
Residents in the Oak Creek Canyon area said relatively little snow and rain during the winter has made the ground ripe for disastrous wildfires.
Taylor Swain, who owns the Oak Creek Lodge, said guests were caught flat-footed about the evacuations. Authorities received initial reports of a fire around 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“We started smelling the smoke, and 20 minutes later, we were being evacuated,” Swain told The Arizona Republic. “You just hope for the best. You hope the people down there fighting the fires are safe and everybody gets out OK.”
The canyon fire comes less than a year after a blaze in nearby Prescott killed 19 firefighters who were part of a Hotshot crew.
Meanwhile, Alaska fire crews were battling their own monster blaze late Tuesday. A fire near Soldotna, about a 100 miles south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula, scorched some 20,000 acres, officials said. That blaze was likely caused by a camper who didn’t properly extinguish a fire, according to NBC affiliate KTUU.
A second fire also broke out Tuesday afternoon. Fire crews had difficulty getting either blaze under control, and the village of Tyonek was evacuated before shifting winds caused the fire to switch course.
No major evacuations were issued as of late Tuesday.