Arizona Fire Spreads Over 3,000 Acres

Arizona Ranger Sgt. Bill Lionberger tells a motorist to turn back at a road block in Sedona, Ariz., Sunday, June 18, 2006.
AP Photo/Khampha Bouaphanh
A wildfire threatening hundreds of homes and businesses early Monday spread to 3,000 acres near northern Arizona's scenic Oak Creek Canyon as firefighters prepared for another hot, dry and windy day.

The fire started Sunday and spread quickly through the parched region, forcing the evacuation of about 400 homes and businesses in the canyon and about 100 homes in five subdivisions on the north side of Sedona.

"We need some rain in the worst way here and our monsoons aren't due to start 'til after July 4, it's been my experience. So, pray for rain," said Serge Wright, an optometrist whose home wasn't one of those that was evacuated.

Temperatures were expected to approach 100 degrees Monday, along with low humidity and winds of 10 to 20 mph.

Crews focused on trying to keep the fire from moving off the area's high plateaus and into the canyon itself, where it could spread quickly toward homes, said Joe Reinarz, commander of the team fighting the fire.

"This is a very crucial day," Reinarz said.

Oak Creek Canyon, more than 90 miles north of Phoenix, holds scattered homes, hotels, resorts and stores. By Monday morning, the fire had burned to within a mile of some buildings, but none had been damaged.

The fire ignited in a wooded area and quickly led to the evacuations in the Sedona subdivisions of Cibola Hills, Rim Shadows, Painted Cliff, Shadow Rock Circle and Casa Contenta. Evacuations followed in Oak Creek Canyon, between Sedona and Flagstaff.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

In southern Colorado, another wildfire grew to more than 400 acres early Monday, prompting officials to urge voluntary evacuations of the 246 homes in Forbes Park. The fire was reported shortly before noon on Sunday. No homes had been destroyed, and the cause of the fire was unknown.

Wildfires have burned more than 2.9 million acres nationwide this year, well ahead of the average of about 900,000 acres by this time of year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Huge grass fires that swept Texas and Oklahoma this spring account for a large part of this year's high acreage.