Slide Fire Quadruples In Size

By Laurel Morales, KJZZ, Gillian Ferris and Ryan Heinsius, KNAU
May 21, 2014

(Photo by Ryan Heinsius - KNAU)
The recent Slide Fire that charred much of the area around Oak Creek Canyon's recreation areas.
(Photo by Laurel Morales - KJZZ)
Smoke from the Slide Fire was thick in Flagstaff on Wednesday.
(Courtesy of inciweb.gov)
The Slide Fire on Wednesday.

By early Wednesday evening the Slide Fire had quadrupled in size, covering 4,500 acres in Northern Arizona at zero percent containment. More than 200 people have been evacuated from Oak Creek Canyon, while two Flagstaff neighborhoods have been told to prepare for possible evacuation.

The Slide Fire started Tuesday near Slide Rock State Park in a rugged canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff. Strong winds pushed the fire and smoke north.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team has taken control of the fire, and 200 personnel are on the scene, including 20 hotshot crews. Forty additional fire engines as well as multiple air tankers and helicopters are there.

Southwest Area Management Teams spokesman Bill Morse says crews are working around the clock to contain the blaze.

“One of our biggest concerns in this area is catastrophic wildfire coming up out of Oak Creek Canyon and burning towards Flagstaff. We’ve been preparing for fires like this for a long time, doing everything we can," Morse said.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office has issued a pre-evacuation notice for the Kachina Village and Forest Highlands neighborhoods of Flagstaff.

In Flagstaff, a gray haze masks the sun creating an eerie light. Winds gusts make it difficult to fight the fire and hard for some nearby residents to breathe. Todd Boehne works outside painting houses in Flagstaff. He steps off his ladder to take a break.

"So smoky it almost seems overcast. Ash flurries all over the place. Hard to breathe. Makes your throat itchy," Boehne said.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality says Boehne and others working outside are breathing particulate matter, which can get deep into the lungs. Children, the elderly and people with respiratory conditions should stay inside or leave the area.

In Oak Creek, April Bradford and her daughter live out of their trailer, which is now parked in the fire’s potential path.

"This is every dime we have sunk into everything we own like is out there. So it’s really hard," Bradford said.

They were in the process of moving from the Phoenix area to Oak Creek. If her trailer is destroyed, Bradford says she doesn’t know how they will recover financially.

They are staying at the Red Cross shelter in Flagstaff along with about a dozen others until they’re allowed back into the canyon.

Oak Creek Canyon is a mix of mobile home parks and vacation resorts. Shelley Chapman traveled from Las Vegas to stay at Junipine Resort.

"We got a call and said, ‘grab your essentials and leave right now.’ I started to say something and she said, ‘no mam, you need to leave right now,'" Chapman said. "You could see the flames jumping from tree to tree so we really didn’t have much time and it was very very smoky and hard to breath ashes falling looked like snow. Scary."

Oak Creek Canyon is a steep, heavily wooded area at the edge of the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world.

Forest officials say conditions are dire after one of the driest winters on record for Arizona. Fire restrictions were in effect on the national forest at the time the Slide Fire broke out.

There are no reports so far of injuries or structures burned since the fire began around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The exact cause of the fire isn't yet known, but authorities believe it was human-caused.

For additional information: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/3874/

The Slide Fire incident management team has created a Facebook page to provide updates: https://www.facebook.com/SlideFireInfo

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Updated 5/21/2014 at 10:28 p.m.