Northern AZ wildfire grows, prompts evacuations

May 14, 2012 - 9:45 PM
CORRECTION Arizona Wildfire

CORRECTS BYLINE SPELLING TO ALLAN INSTEAD OF ALLEN - In this Saturday, May 12, 2012 photo, a fire blazes in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, near Payson, Ariz. The fire has grown to more than three-square miles as air tankers and helicopters assist ground crews in beating back flames. Tonto National Forest spokesman David Albo says the fire about 20 miles south of Payson was moving in a northeasterly direction and primarily toward a wilderness area late Saturday. He says no structures were threatened by the fire and it has not prompted any evacuation orders. Authorities have not yet determined a suspected cause of the fire. (AP Photo/Marc Allan)

CROWN KING, Ariz. (AP) — Firefighters continued to battle a wildfire Monday in northern Arizona that has forced residents from their homes in the historic mining town of Crown King just weeks ahead of the busy tourist season.

The fire began on private land Sunday and has burned about 2 square miles as of Monday afternoon, with zero containment. The 1,300-acre, human-caused blaze already has destroyed two buildings and one trailer, Prescott National Forest spokeswoman Debbie Maneely said.

The Crown King area remained under a mandatory evacuation order, though authorities said most of the town's 350 residents had chosen to stay in the community of mostly summer homes.

Maneely said most residents likely were staying with family and friends. An American Red Cross shelter in Mayer, which is about 24 miles north, had several evacuees, but they had left.

Meanwhile, a fire south of Payson was 5 percent contained by Monday evening after charring nearly 5 square miles in the Tonto National Forest. Authorities have yet to determine a cause.

The fire, and several others burning in Arizona, follow a warning from state land managers that hot temperatures and dry vegetation have created a very high fire risk in some areas.

Crown King is a popular destination for all-terrain vehicles because of its numerous hills and gorges. It is located in the mountains more than 85 miles north of Phoenix.

Expected hot and windy weather could make containment difficult, Maneely said.

Greg Flores, owner of The Prospector shopping center and president of the Crown King Chamber of Commerce, said he helped a couple and their pug dog flee during a house fire.

It wasn't immediately clear if the house was the one where authorities say the wildfire began.

"The whole house was fully engulfed," Flores said, adding, "There were flames over 100 feet tall when we got up there."

Flores said that the fire had turned a ridge black, destroying much of the forest there.

"It's just horrible," Flores said.

Flores and his wife had to leave their home around 2 a.m. Monday after ash began raining down. They spent the night on the floor in the store and have since been able to return home.

The fire overtook a portion of Crown King Road, making the road to the mountain town inaccessible, a sheriff's office statement said.

Flores said most residents own four-wheel-drive vehicles and many were using them to access back roads due to the main road's closure.

With more than 400 cabins that draw weekend visitors, Flores said, he's glad this fire didn't break out during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.