Northern Arizona wildfire forces some residents to evacuate

Northern Arizona wildfire forces some residents to evacuate

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Residents on the outskirts of Flagstaff were evacuated Tuesday as high winds whipped a wildfire, shut down a major highway and grounded aircraft that could drop water and fire retardant on the blaze.

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 over 100 acres 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.”

Elsewhere in Arizona, firefighters battled a wildfire in a sparsely populated area of the Prescott National Forest about 10 miles south of Prescott. The cause of the 600-acre wildfire was under investigation.

Some communities were evacuated and a shelter set up at Yavapai College.

In southern Arizona, a principal highway route between Bisbee and Sierra Vista reopened Tuesday after being closed for about eight hours overnight due to a brush fire in the hills overlooking Bisbee.