Fire Commander Reassures Arizona Evacuees as Wildfire Battle

June 29, 2006

The head of the team fighting a roughly 4,000-acre northern Arizona wildfire near Sedona reassured evacuees Friday about the safety of their homes in a scenic canyon but said the battle continued.

Firefighters have created a good firebreak using a highway and deliberately set fires to clear away vegetation in part of Oak Creek Canyon, where roughly 430 homes and 30 businesses have been evacuated since Sunday, said incident commander Paul Broyles.

Officials said the fire was 20 percent contained Friday.

“It’s still not a done deal,” Broyles told about 100 people at a community meeting. “I’m not going to guarantee we’ve completely turned the corner just yet.”

Broyles said residents may be allowed to return to their homes in two to four days. They’re being kept out partly because embers could still start fires in the canyon. No homes have burned.

“I feel a lot better now about the safety of our house,” evacuee Sarah Peterson said at the meeting.

The fire began last Sunday as a transient’s campfire and quickly spread to steep, rugged terrain above the canyon, a lush area dotted with homes and resorts. Sedona is about 90 miles north of Phoenix.

Elsewhere in the West, a 13,100-acre wildfire in southern Colorado was 35 percent contained.

Residents of about 70 homes in one rural subdivision were allowed back to their homes about 7 a.m., but at least 230 other homes were awaiting word from sheriff’s deputies on when it would be safe for them to return.

A 1,530-acre wildfire in western Colorado started by a car wreck Tuesday was 25 percent contained. The fire was burning in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, about 225 miles southwest of Denver near the Utah border.

To the south in New Mexico, firefighters faced a half-dozen large fires that have charred more than 90,000 acres in the past week. The largest burned nearly 43,000 acres in the Gila National Forest 15 miles northeast of Glenwood. It was only 5 percent contained Friday.

The intensity of the blaze Thursday afternoon and thunderstorms that brought erratic winds forced the Forest Service to pull out crews in the Willow Creek area for their safety, fire information officer Brian Morris said Friday.

In southern California, a nearly 15,000-acre wildfire in Los Padres National Forest was 78 percent contained late Friday. The flames were burning on rugged terrain five miles south of New Cuyama and 45 miles east of Santa Maria. The fire began Monday afternoon when a piece of metal blew into electrical wires, authorities said.


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