FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Firefighters in aircraft and on the ground battled the second serious wildfire to threaten buildings in two days Sunday as officials urged hundreds of residents to flee their homes and a huge plume of smoke spread over parts of this forested mountain city.
The fast-spreading fire erupted in Flagstaff’s northern outskirts early Sunday and grew to more than 7 square miles in size by evening, fire officials said.
Residents of hundreds of homes were urged to evacuate because of the blaze, dubbed the Shultz fire, city spokeswoman Kimberly Ott said.
Some heeded the call but it was unclear how many; others watched as bright red and orange flames climbed over a mountain behind a cloud of towering smoke.
The blaze was within 500 yards of homes beneath the mountain, spurring firefighters to work feverishly on a containment line, said fire spokesman Eric Neitzel.
Four helicopters and eight air tankers dropped fire suppression chemicals and 300 firefighters battled the blaze, and more crews were on the way, Ott said.
“It’s torching, it’s crowning – all the things you don’t want it to do,” she said.
U.S. 89 north of this northern Arizona city of about 60,000 was closed because of smoke from the Shultz fire. Its cause was unknown.
Also Sunday, evacuation orders for a fire that emerged Saturday in southeastern Flagstaff were lifted after officials reported it 25 percent contained.
There have been no reports of any injuries in the fires, but there was a scare earlier in the day with a report that several hikers were missing in the burning region.
Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil announced Sunday evening that all the hikers were accounted for and were making their way home on their own, city spokeswoman Stephanie Smith said.
A third wildfire of an unknown size that broke out near Interstate 40 in western Flagstaff was suppressed within a matter of hours, Smith said. That fire was caused by a vehicle that spread into a wooded area.
The American Red Cross set up a shelter for displaced residents at a Flagstaff middle school but few were expected to stay overnight.
Meanwhile, residents of the 116 homes evacuated because of the southeastern Flagstaff fire were being allowed to return after crews worked to establish a perimeter around the blaze.
A California man was arrested on suspicion of starting the Hardy fire, which erupted Saturday, by leaving behind hot coals at a campsite in a wooded area about two miles from downtown Flagstaff.
“As far as we understand, this was not a deliberate act. It was a careless act,” Ott said.
Fire danger is considered high to extreme in Arizona, which has seen two wildfires burn more than 3,000 acres each in the last month.