With winds calmer Thursday morning, firefighters in Arizona established a line of defense that gave them hope of lifting a pre-evacuation warning for thousands of people near Flagstaff.
The Slide Fire had scorched nearly 4,900 acres by 7 a.m. Thursday, nearly 40 hours after the suspected human-caused fire was reported in a popular hiking canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff. It remained at 0% containment.
“The northeast corner, where that fire was pushing all day yesterday, is kind of in check,” fire Cmdr. Tony Sciacca said during a televised briefing Thursday. “That does not mean we are out of the woods in any way, shape or form. It means we now have a place to start anchoring and tying all the pieces of the puzzle together.”
By mid-morning, officials said the pre-evacuation warning for Kachina Village and Forest Highlands could be lifted within hours if winds that had been gusting at 30 mph on Wednesday stayed down below 20 mph Thursday.
Vacation cabins, homes and businesses on the north end of Slide Rock State Park were evacuated immediately after the fire started and were among 300 structures that had initially been under threat. Hikers, honeymooners and others fled from the area.
Eighteen evacuees stayed at a shelter in a Flagstaff middle school on Wednesday night, according to the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter.
The fire has wiped out parts of one of Arizona’s most popular destinations. The red rock cliffs along Oak Creek are lined with shining pines, oaks and smaller brushes. It was unclear whether fire officials would let cabins and resorts in the area reopen in time for the Memorial Day weekend.
Area air quality remained very unhealthy in the Flagstaff region overnight, health officials said. People in Flagstaff and Sedona were urged to stay inside because of the heavy smoke. Crews closed the main highway linking the cities of 68,000 people and 10,000 people, respectively.
The fire is being investigated as human-caused because lightning wasn't an issue at the time, and authorities were still seeking tips.
More than 800 crews were helping to fight the blaze. Firefighting officials reported that dropping retardant on the westside's steep terrain yielded "good results" on Wednesday along with back burns to hold back the fire on the east end.