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Ariz. Slide wildfire 5 percent contained

Fire thought to be started by human activity

May 23, 2014

A massive wildfire that has burned over 7,500 acres in a canyon south of Flagstaff, Ariz., is 5 percent contained, fire officials said Friday.

Hundreds of firefighters are working to protect communities from a wildfire chewing up a scenic Arizona canyon, but some business owners worry that the blaze will keep customers away from the premier tourist area over the important holiday weekend.

A fire official said the Slide Fire, which erupted Tuesday in Oak creek Canyon just north of Sedona, is expected to grow to 7,500-8,000 acres by Friday. That roughly a 3,000 acre increase from what officials said earlier.

While no buildings had burned by Friday morning, officials said at least 300 were in harm’s way. They included houses, rental cabins at resorts and a Forest Service fir tower.

Residents of Kachina Village and other areas north of the fire were notified earlier in the week to be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice.

Officials with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, Coconino County’s Emergency Management Response Team, as well as those with the Southwest Incident Management Team spoke at a community meeting held in Flagstaff.

Authorities said fire crews conducted burn out operations close to Highway 89A to prevent the fire from spreading west. If this were to occur, those in nearby Mountainaire and Kachina Village could have to evacuate. As of Thursday, the fire remained 3 to 3 miles away.

Incident commander Tony Sciacca said, “Everything is holding this morning.”

Sciacca said 900 firefighters were assigned to the fire Friday, including 35 hand and at least 35 engine crews.

Firefighters are also taking extra steps to make sure they don’t lose communication with crews in the steep canyons. They brought in “repeaters” that look like 20-foot-tall antennas and placed them on overlooks to maintain radio contact with firefighters below. Radio communication issues were a problem last year in a fire in nearby Prescott that killed 19 firefighters who were part of a Hotshot crew.

Weather conditions for the next several days look favorable, with increased humidity and a chance of rain, though rain could lead to rock falls off steep canyon slopes denuded of vegetation.

Investigators believe the blaze was started by human activity.

An official said during the community meeting if fire crews can successfully get ahead of the fire, it could be potentially contained within the next 7-10 days. He reiterated that number depends on how the fire continues to progress.

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