Arizona wildfire growing due to strong winds

The Gladiator Fire burns in the Bradshaw Mountains in Prescott National Forest, Ariz. on Wednesday, May 16, 2012.
David Wallace,AP Photo/The Arizona Republic

(CBS/AP) CROWN KING, Ariz. - Strong wind gusts will likely keep spreading a wildfire that has grown to nearly 10 square miles and prompted the evacuation of a historic Arizona mining town.

Fire incident spokeswoman Michelle Fidler says gusts of up to 40 mph are expected Thursday in the Prescott National Forest, near Crown King.

She says the wind could push the fire, which is only 5 percent contained, northward but crews will use the opportunity to slow the blaze from the west, where communication towers are threatened.

The fire has destroyed two homes and a trailer, and prompted an evacuation order Sunday. Crown King is a community of mostly summer homes about 85 miles north of Phoenix.

The blaze started at a home, but investigators have yet to determine the cause.

The fire in the Prescott National Forest grew an estimated 5,400 acres, or nearly 8.5 square miles, Wednesday night - up from about 2,000 acres a day earlier.

Most of Crown King's 350 residents had already evacuated their homes before Taryn Denyce finally left earlier Wednesday, feeling she had no other choice.

She didn't fear for her life, nor for the bed and breakfast she took over from her parents a few years ago that was being powered by a generator.

Instead, authorities mistakenly told her she could be arrested if she didn't leave, even if she was on her own property, Yavapai County sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said. When a sheriff's official showed up at her door in downtown Crown King and offered to help pack her truck, she reluctantly left.

"I felt I had no choice. I was raised a Catholic girl," said the 48-year-old retired nurse. "I follow the rules, and if he's telling me `it's time to go Taryn,' it's time to go."

Fire incident spokeswoman Michelle Fidler said winds could shift and push the fire back into the community where it started and possibly threaten some communications towers in the area.

Road access also is a concern. Fewer than 10 residents remain in their homes, D'Evelyn said, and they could become trapped if the flames cross or block access roads.

Firefighters also would be pulled out if that happens, Fidler said.

Most of the 350 residents initially chose to stay in the town that's popular for all-terrain vehicles because of its numerous hills and gorges. But D'Evelyn said sheriff's officials persuaded about 20 of the 30 residents still left early Wednesday morning to go -- including Denyce.

"Most people have come down from the hill," he said. "We want them all down. We don't want to have to worry about anyone who doesn't need to be up there."

Denyce gathered what she could from her home in 20 minutes and is now staying with a friend in Glendale. She said she would rather be protecting her property and trying to keep her business viable but now is prohibited from returning, as are other residents who have left.

"I have my daughter and my animals and I'm just happy we're out, but I don't think I was in imminent danger," she said.