Northern AZ wildfire grows, prompts evacuations

Firefighters battled a wildfire Monday in northern Arizona that has forced residents from their homes in a historic mining town just weeks ahead of the busy tourist season.

The fire in Crown King began on private land Sunday and grew to nearly 1 square mile, destroying two buildings and one trailer, Prescott National Forest spokeswoman Debbie Maneely said.

An aircraft using GPS data found the fire was smaller than an earlier estimate of 4 square miles.

The blaze started at a "structure" and was human-caused, she said.

Crown King is a popular destination for all-terrain vehicles because of its numerous hills and gorges. It is located in the mountains more than 85 miles north of Phoenix.

The fire, and several others burning in Arizona, follow a warning from state land managers that hot temperatures and dry vegetation have created a very high fire risk in some areas.

The Crown King area remained under a mandatory evacuation order, though authorities said most of the town's 350 residents had chosen to stay in the community of mostly summer homes.

Maneely said most residents likely were staying with family and friends. An American Red Cross shelter in Mayer, Ariz., which is about 24 miles north, had several evacuees, but they had left.

Expected hot and windy weather could make containment difficult, Maneely said.

Greg Flores, owner of The Prospector shopping center and president of the Crown King Chamber of Commerce, said he helped a couple and their pug dog flee during a house fire.

It wasn't immediately clear if the house was the one where authorities say the wildfire began.

"The whole house was fully engulfed," Flores said, adding, "There were flames over 100 feet tall when we got up there."

Flores said that the fire had turned a ridge black, destroying much of the forest there.

"It's just horrible," Flores said.

Flores and his wife had to leave their home around 2 a.m. Monday after ash began raining down. They spent the night on the floor in the store and have since been able to return home.

The fire overtook a portion of Crown King Road, making the road to the mountain town inaccessible, a sheriff's office statement said.

Flores said most residents own four-wheel drive vehicles and many were using them to access back roads due to the main road's closure.

With more than 400 cabins that draw weekend visitors, Flores said, he's glad this fire didn't break out during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Another large fire, more than 120 miles northeast of Phoenix, was spotted Saturday in Tonto National Forest, where it burned nearly 5 square miles. Authorities have yet to determine a cause.