Ariz. Wildfire Crews Brace For Storms

The Brins Fire burns slopes on Wilson Mountain at sunset, threatening Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Ariz. on Thursday, June 22, 2006. Authorities evacuated about 400 homes and businesses in Oak Creek Canyon. (AP Photo/Khampha Bouaphanh)
AP Photo/Khampha Bouaphan
Crews trying to keep a 3,256-acre wildfire from spreading north were bracing for possible thunderstorms Friday that could bring strong and erratic winds and complicate efforts to extinguish the blaze.

By Thursday night, officials said the fire in this scenic Arizona community was 15 percent contained, up from 7 percent Wednesday. But authorities were watching forecasts for the predicted storms, which could fan the flames.

"That's a red flag. That's a watch-out situation," said Mike Dondero, deputy incident commander for the fire. "It could hit and blow stuff all over the place."

Firefighters stood by to protect roughly 430 homes and 30 businesses in nearby Oak Creek Canyon, which was evacuated when the fire began Sunday as a transient's campfire.

Nora Walker-Yeager, who was allowed to return to her Oak Creek Canyon home Thursday to pick up belongings, grabbed her wedding book, her husband's wedding ring, her engagement ring, dog toys, clothes and medications.

"If it burns, we've got the things that are most important to us," Walker-Yeager said. "We've got each other, our dog and our wedding rings."

In southern Colorado, a 13,100-acre wildfire was 35 percent contained. Residents from a 62-house subdivision were heading home Friday and motorists were being allowed to travel again on U.S. 160, which had been closed since Monday.

Cafe owner Luisa Sena said she was relieved to learn the highway, the main east-west route across southern Colorado, was reopening because she depends on the summer months to make most of the money to pay her nine workers. Without any tourists or truckers passing along the highway through the town at the gateway to the historic San Luis Valley, business slowed to a standstill.

"It's tough in the winter. It doesn't need to be like this in the summer," said Sena, owner of Lu's Mainstreet CafDe in neighboring Blanca.

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

Firefighters in New Mexico, facing fires that have scorched more than 70,000 acres, are also dealing with hot weather, but forecasts of storms and erratic winds Thursday did not pan out.

The largest blaze - a 33,250-acre one in southwestern New Mexico - threatened cabins and other structures in the Willow Creek area.

"We have to take one day at a time," fire information officer Brian Morris said. "We can plan for the future, but we still have to deal with today."

In southern California, firefighters were holding their ground against a wildfire that has consumed nearly 15,000 acres of chaparral, pine and grasslands in Los Padres National Forest, officials said.

Fire crews prevented a 10-mile-long swath of flames from rolling over a ridgeline bordering a wilderness area that has larger trees and brush, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Joe Pasinato. The fire was 57 percent contained, officials said.

"Today was a key day," said Pasinato. "The fire did not make any rapid advances."