Photos: Firefighters fear Gladiator Fire could still hit Crown King
May 17th 2012 · 8 Comments
CROWN KING, Ariz. — The Gladiator Fire is still burning out of control in the Bradshaw Mountains north of Phoenix. Fire officials told evacuees Tuesday night that their homes are still in jeopardy.
For much of the day, 30- to 40-mph winds pushed the flames north, away from the homes in Crown King, a historic mountain town and popular tourist site. Evacuees at a fire briefing were surprised and saddened to learn that fire officials expect the flames to loop back — toward their homes.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this fire is moving fast” said Joe Reinarz of the U.S. Forest Service, “It may come back around and hit Crown King. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
“Later in the week, if the winds drop off, if we have the potential to get back in to a terrain- and fuel-driven situation, that’s when we have more potential for it to move back into Crown King,” public information officer Michelle Fidler said Wednesday.
The Incident Management Team announced progress Wednesday morning, saying crews on the fire lines had 5 percent containment in the area bordering Crown King.
“Our focus is on providing structure protection to the community and the residences there in the Crown King area …,” Fidler said Wednesday.
Most of the town’s residents followed mandatory evacuation orders, but a few remained to help house and feed fire crews. The Fire Incident Commander is now begging them to leave, too.
“We need to get those people out of there. It’s no longer safe,” Reinarz said. “I understand it’s their homes, but we just can’t risk losing anybody.”
“The message is, ‘Get out now,’” Fidler reiterated. “The fire is still very active. We’ve seen extreme fire behavior. … The time to get out is now.”
Several cell and communication towers are in the fire’s path.
“Those communications towers are another priority,” Fidler said.
Six air tankers and at least two helicopters are assisting ground crews. The fire grew to at least 2,000 acres Tuesday, the flames whipped by gusty winds.
In addition to the weather, the terrain has been a major issue for crews battling the fire. Access is difficult at best.
“The terrain out there is incredibly rugged and gnarly,” Karen Takai of the Southwest Area Incident Management Team said Tuesday.
Mother Nature continues to work against firefighters. Drier weather and strong winds were expected Wednesday.
“Winds from the southeast and south are expected to push the fire north and northwest on Wednesday,” the Incident Management Team said in a 7 a.m. update. “Fire behavior is expected to be extreme.”
The Gladiator Fire, named after a road in the mountains, began as a house fire on Sunday, which quickly spread through the dry pines in the Prescott National Forest.
Three buildings have burned and three firefighters have been injured fighting the fire. One was burned and two suffered dehydration.
At this point, fire managers can’t say when residents will be allowed to return home. Another community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Mayer High School.
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