Northern Arizona wildfire hits popular tourist area

National/World News
The fire, which began Tuesday afternoon and was likely caused by a person, has already grown to 4,500 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo: KPHO

The fire, which began Tuesday afternoon and was likely caused by a person, has already grown to 4,500 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo: KPHO

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The deck appears stacked against 840 firefighters trying to wrangle an Arizona forest fire as it roars through thousands of acres of park land.

Dust-dry pine needles, high winds and steep slopes have dealt the blaze called the Slide Fire ideal conditions to spread rapidly, fire officials say. And it has.

The flames that investigators fear were ignited by human hands appear to have consumed hundreds of acres in a few hours’ time, according to data from the online Incident Information System. The reported acreage burned jumped from 4,830 to 7,500 acres on Thursday.

A battalion of firefighters, including 15 hotshot crews and three air tankers had the blaze 5% contained by the evening, more than two days after the wildfire was first reported.

Weather unhelpful

Friday’s weather forecast is handing fire crews a fickle mix that contains more potential hardship than hope.

Storm clouds could bring some rain but are most certain to add a lot of wind, the National Weather Service said.

“If any storms form ,,, they will have the potential to produce localized very strong winds but not much rainfall,” the NWS said. “It is possible that the strong winds could spread considerable distances from the parent storms.”

No one has been reported injured in Oak Creek Canyon, near Slide Rock State Park, but around 300 homes and businesses have been evacuated out of the potential path of the blaze burning about 5 miles north of Sedona.

Residents on the run

In all, about 3,200 residents in Coconino County were given pre-evacuation notices.

Three of Amy Reese’s cats sat in animal carriers in her car, as she looked desperately for six more of her feline friends.

“Right now we’re just trying to round them up and get them to a safer place,” she said, as a cat cried out from its cage.

Frank Garrison packed his pickup and was in a line of cars of people on their way out. He owns 20 rental cabins in the area.

“It’s my home, my property, my livelihood,” he told CNN affiliate KTVK on Wednesday. “Everything.”

The area is a popular retirement and tourist destination convenient to Flagstaff.

Fodor’s Travel named it one of the top 10 state parks in the United States. The state park is a 43-acre historic apple farm, according to the Slide Rock website.

The wind has blasted vigorously and erratically through fiery gulches, with gusts up to 30 mph, but has not blown towards the populated Flagstaff area.

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