Arizona residents evacuate in fierce wildfire

CNN
Saturday, May 24, 2014 - 1:25am

NEAR FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (CNN) -- As one of hundreds of evacuees in Arizona's raging wildfire, Serena Chesmore valued family over home.

She ensured the safety of the most precious things in the world: her family and pets.

Her house in Kachina Village, after all, is replaceable, Chesmore said Friday.

"The kids, the pets, the photos -- they can't be replaced," Chesmore said.

Chesmore is hoping, nonetheless, that 960 firefighters will be able to save her house and 300 other homes and business from an Arizona forest fire roaring through park land. She made an early jump on a pre-evacuation notice given to about 3,200 residents in Coconino County.

The online Incident Information System reported Friday night that much of the fire burned with lower intensity throughout the day, allowing firefighters to make some progress.

However, despite that progress, the total acreage scorched climbed to 8,500 that night, and its containment level held steady at 5%.

The equivalent of a battalion of firefighters, including 15 hotshot crews and three air tankers, have been fighting the fire between Flagstaff and Sedona -- a tourist and retirement destination famed for its red rock formations -- since Tuesday afternoon.

Tony Sciacca, a fire incident commander, acknowledged the uphill battle against extreme fire behavior.

"They're engaged in tough terrain, cutting vegetation, applying fire to the landscape as they need to in burnout operations," Sciacca said.

Dust-dry pine needles, high winds and steep slopes have dealt the blaze called the Slide Fire ideal conditions to spread rapidly, fire officials say. And it has.

The flames that investigators fear were ignited by human hands appear to have consumed hundreds of acres in a few hours' time, according to data from the online Incident Information System.

No one has been reported injured in Oak Creek Canyon, near Slide Rock State Park, but around 300 homes and businesses have been evacuated out of the potential path of the blaze burning about 5 miles north of Sedona.

Residents on the run

In all, about 3,200 residents in Coconino County were given pre-evacuation notices.

Three of Amy Reese's cats sat in animal carriers in her car, as she looked desperately for six more of her feline friends.

"Right now we're just trying to round them up and get them to a safer place," she said, as a cat cried out from its cage.

Frank Garrison packed his pickup and was in a line of cars of people on their way out. He owns 20 rental cabins in the area.

"It's my home, my property, my livelihood," he told CNN affiliate KTVK on Wednesday. "Everything."

The area is a popular retirement and tourist destination convenient to Flagstaff.

Fodor's Travel named it one of the top 10 state parks in the United States. The state park is a 43-acre historic apple farm, according to the Slide Rock website.

The wind has blasted vigorously and erratically through fiery gulches, with gusts up to 30 mph, but has not blown towards the populated Flagstaff area.

CNN's Ana Cabrera reported from Arizona. Ben Brumfield reported from Atlanta and Michael Martinez reported and wrote from Los Angeles. CNN's Steve Almasy and Shawn Nottingham also contributed to this report. 

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