A wildfire burning out of control between the towns of Sedona and Flagstaff in northern Arizona was most likely “human caused,” say authorities. The blaze has been dubbed the “Slide Fire” due to its proximity to Slide Rock State Park, which was recently named one of America’s 10 Best State Parks. The fire began on Tuesday but “exploded” yesterday, threatening hundreds of homes and businesses and putting over 3,000 residents on evacuation alert. 300 homes are under mandatory evacuation.
Strong winds and the steep topography of the area caused the fire to intensify yesterday, but cooler conditions are expected to help containment efforts today. It’s estimated the fire has already consumed 7.5 square miles (4,800 acres) of countryside. Dozens of fire crews, around 500 people in all, have been called in to assist firefighting efforts, including 15 Hotshot crews. Nineteen Hotshot crew members died last year fighting a fire near Yarnell, Arizona. Helicopters are on the scene to water bomb the area as the difficult terrain means combating the blaze can only be done on foot from the ground. However, strong winds grounded the airborne crews yesterday, further hampering efforts.
Many homes in the communities of Forest Highlands and Katchina Village are under threat from the rapidly approaching fire, with pre-evacuation notices issued to around 3,200 residents yesterday. While many are packing their most valuable possessions and preparing to leave, others are refusing to abandon their properties unless forced to by authorities. Ken Olsen, a former firefighter, told reporters from station KPNX, “It’s the only place we got. If we lose it, we lose pretty much everything. I’m not leaving until they kick me out.” But fellow resident Ken Patrick is already packed and ready to go. He described evacuation as “a no-brainer.”
The fire has been able to burn so strongly because of a trifecta of unfortunate conditions – the rugged terrain, strong wind conditions, and the high forest fuel load caused by recent drought conditions. In April the Department of the Interior issued its National Cohesive Fire Management Strategy in recognition of the increasing wildfire threat to communities. In the DOI’s press release, Council on Environmental Quality Acting Chair Mike Boots states: “As climate change spurs extended droughts and longer fire seasons, this collaborative wildfire blueprint will help us restore forests and rangelands to make communities less vulnerable to catastrophic fire.” Authorities are continuing to investigate the cause of the wildfire, and while they are certain it was human caused, they have not yet determined if it was intentionally lit.