Arizona Wildfire Explodes In Size, Threatens Evacuations

CREDIT: (AP Photo/Arizona Department of Public Safety, Carrick Cook

In this photo released by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, flames from a wildfire rise over a ridge behind the popular Slide Rock State Park Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Ariz., Tuesday, May 20, 2014. About 200 firefighters and other personnel are already assigned to the 450-acre Slide Fire, including five Hotshot crews, Coconino National Forest officials said Wednesday.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling strong winds to try to contain an Arizona wildfire that ballooned in size over the last 24 hours.

The Slide fire — named for its proximity to Arizona’s Slide Rock State Park — grew from 450 acres to 4,500 acres in one 24-hour period, and now has burned through 4,830 acres. Authorities have already evacuated people in a two- to three-mile area in the Slide fire’s path, and have warned about 3,200 residents in Coconino County, AZ that they should be prepared to evacuate their homes if the fire doesn’t let up. So far, the fire, which is burning near Sedona, a retirement community and destination made popular by its red rock formations, threatens about 300 structures.

Some of the 3,200 people who have recieved pre-evacuation notices aren’t waiting to see whether the fire will force them out of their homes — instead, they’re choosing to leave now.

“It’s pretty bad, we’re all ready,” Ken Patrick, a Flagstaff city worker, told the Weather Channel. “I don’t know if we’re going to wait for them to tell us to get out of here. It’s a no-brainer.”

Many aren’t happy about it, though.

“It’s my home, my property, my livelihood,” Frank Garrison, who owns 20 rental cabins in the area, told KTVK on Wednesday. “Everything.”

About 500 firefighters are working to contain the fire, including 20 elite Hotshot crews — colleagues of the 19 men who died almost a year ago in the tragic Yarnell Hill fire. The hilly region and 30-mph winds have made containing the fire difficult for firefighters so far.

Dry conditions in Arizona don’t help either. Right now, 98 percent of the state is experiencing some level of drought, with the majority of the state in the most severe rankings of drought. The Arizona wildfire comes a week after more than 20,000 Californians were evacuated after dry conditions and strong Santa Ana winds fueled wildfires in the state. California Gov. Jerry Brown tied the wildfires to climate change, and said that as climate changes in California, the state will need thousands more firefighters.

“As we send billions and billions of tons of heat-trapping gases, we get heat and we get fires and we get what we’re seeing,” he said. “So, we’ve got to gear up. We’re going to deal with nature as best we can, but humanity is on a collision course with nature and we’re just going to have to adapt to it in the best way we can.”

Gov. Brown is right: as hot, dry conditions become more the norm in much of the U.S., wildfires — including large, explosive ones — are already becoming more common. On average, fire seasons in the U.S. are two months longer than now than they used to be.