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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
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More crews headed to northern Arizona wildfire


Published:

OAK CREEK CANYON, Ariz. — Hundreds of firefighters were pouring into northern Arizona on Wednesday to battle a wind-whipped wildfire burning in scenic Oak Creek Canyon near Slide Rock State Park.

About 200 firefighters and other personnel are already assigned to the 450-acre Slide Fire, including five Hotshot crews, Coconino National Forest officials said Wednesday.

An additional 15 Hotshot crews are on order, as well as 10 other firefighting crews plus dozens of fire engines, officials said. A top-level fire management team was to take over command Wednesday afternoon.

Calming wildfire conditions in Southern California have freed up crews for the Arizona fire, said Bill Morse, a Flagstaff Fire Department captain and a spokesman for firefighting managers.

The Slide Fire has forced the evacuations of 100 threatened businesses and homes in a 2-mile stretch north of the state park, and 15 people stayed at a shelter in Flagstaff.

There are no reports so far of injuries or structures burned. Slide Rock State Park is a popular recreation area because of its natural rock water slides.

The fire was moving up the canyon’s steep walls, sending up smoke and creating hazy conditions in Flagstaff.

A resort near the fire used water sprayers to keep the flames at bay and its buildings escaped damage, Morse said.

A separate wildfire in the state burned 200 acres and closed Interstate 17 near Cordes Junction in both directions for more than four hours late Tuesday. I-17, which is the main traffic route between the Phoenix area and northern Arizona, reopened Tuesday evening.

The two blazes ignited amid drought conditions that have left parts of the state tinder-dry and have Arizona officials worried about the prospect of a devastating 2014 wildfire season.

The Slide Fire started Tuesday afternoon and authorities believe it was human-caused.

State Route Highway 89A is closed through the canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff.

Red Cross spokeswoman Trudy Thompson Rice said most of the 15 people who stayed Tuesday night at the shelter at a Flagstaff school were campers.

“We had a lot more than that -- maybe 30 -- come in to register and let us know where they were,” she said Wednesday.

The evacuees at the Flagstaff shelter included Nathan and Mickella Westerfield, young honeymooners from Phoenix who arrived at a campground in the canyon Tuesday afternoon.

They were headed into Sedona for dinner when they passed the fire, which was burning shrubs and trees in a small valley visible from the highway.

Other passers-by had stopped to take pictures of the fire, Nathan Westerfield said.

“It didn’t even seem like it was a big deal,” but a firefighter told the couple they couldn’t return to their campground to retrieve their newly purchased camping gear and other belongings, Westerfield said.

“He told us, ‘no, we’re evacuating,’” he said. “We literally have the clothes on our backs.”

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