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Fri, Aug. 19

Residents evacuated in Flagstaff-area due to wind-whipped wildfire

FLAGSTAFF – A fast-moving wildfire in rural northern Arizona ballooned to over 3 square miles Tuesday as winds whipped the flames, shut down a major highway and grounded aircraft that could drop water and fire retardant.

About a couple hundred homes along U.S. 89, north of Flagstaff, were being evacuated, said Coconino County sheriff's spokesman Jon Paxton. Firefighters contended with gusts of up to 50 mph that pushed the wildfire over the highway, authorities said.

“It's blowing hard, and we have ash falling on the highway,” Paxton said.

Fire and law enforcement agencies were going door to door to warn of the evacuations. No injuries were reported and no structures have burned.

The fire has burned about 3.1 square miles (8 square kilometers) of timber and grass since starting Sunday afternoon 14 miles northeast of Flagstaff, the Coconino National Forest said. Its cause was under investigation.

The Arizona Department of Transportation shut down a section of U.S. 89, the main route between Flagstaff and the far northern part of the state, and a primary route to and from Navajo Nation communities.

The American Red Cross was setting up a shelter for evacuees at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff. Pet shelters were set up at Coconino Humane Association and at Fort Tuthill, a county park near the Flagstaff airport.

The wind is expected to be a challenge the rest of the week, along with warm weather and low humidity, the National Weather Service said.

“I don't see any significant decreases in wind, I don't see any big bump ups in humidity and, at this point, we're not really expecting any precipitation either,” said meteorologist Robert Rickey.

About 400 firefighters were working the fire that appeared to be moving to the northeast toward Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and volcanic cinders, said Coconino National Forest spokesman Brady Smith.

“It's good in that it's not headed toward a very populated area, and it's headed toward less fuel,” he said. “But depending on the intensity of the fire, fire can still move across cinders.”

A principal highway route between Bisbee and Sierra Vista reopened Tuesday after being closed for about eight hours due to a brush fire near Bisbee.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for Arizona residents near Mount Union, about 10 miles south of Prescott, officials said.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office issued the order Monday after a wildfire began at about 10 a.m. It said on Facebook that an evacuation center has been set up at Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.

The U.S. Forest Service said in a statement that the fire has burned about 500 acres in rugged terrain filled with brush, ponderosa pine and mixed conifer, which are trees with cones and needle-like leaves.

Department officials said fire crews, engines and aircraft have been working to suppress the flames and that smoke may be visible from surrounding towns and areas, including Chino Valley, Mayer and Prescott Valley.

The cause is currently under investigation.

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