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14,000-acre Arizona wildfire continues to burn

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Evacuation lifted for hundreds of residents displaced by Schultz wildfire
  • Cost of fighting fire nears $2 million
  • East side of 14,000 acre fire is secure; crews work on other borders Wednesday
  • About 150 more people on scene, bringing total fire personnel to 947

Flagstaff, Arizona (CNN) -- Jennifer and John Stanley returned Wednesday to the foothills above Flagstaff, Arizona, to see their rustic red home and surrounding stand of pine trees uncharred.

"I am glad to see the house is still there," John Stanley said.

The Stanleys were among hundreds of weary Flagstaff-area residents allowed home Wednesday after the Schultz fire forced their evacuation this week. The 3-day-old wildfire has torched 14,000 acres in the Flagstaff area, fire officials said.

Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil announced Wednesday that the evacuation order had been lifted. Only local residents were allowed back into the affected areas, and returning residents were required to present IDs to sheriff's deputies. Officials were providing re-entry information to returning residents at designated checkpoints.

The Stanleys praised authorities for a well-executed evacuation of their Timberline development and firefighters for quickly cutting fire lines with bulldozers.

"Outstanding response by the firefighters, the police, the sheriffs, everyone who helped out, all the volunteers, everything," John Stanley said. "It's just unfortunate that it started with someone's stupid campfire in the middle of summer in Arizona."

Video: View wildfire torching Arizona
  • Arizona
  • Fires

The dangerous conditions spurred officials at the nearby Coconino, Kaibab and Prescott national forests to implement fire restrictions starting Wednesday "to protect public health and safety and prevent human-caused wildfires."

The restrictions prohibit fires, campfires, charcoal, coal or wood stoves outside of developed campgrounds and limit smoking to within enclosed vehicles or buildings or in developed campgrounds. Pressurized liquid or gas stoves, lanterns and heaters meeting safety specifications will continue to be allowed.

The surrounding forest areas affected by the wildfire are under an emergency fire closure, which prohibits citizens from entering the area. Unauthorized people found within the area could be subject to arrest, officials said. Signs have been posted around the closure area, which is considered hazardous, with possible fires, falling trees and heavy equipment still working in the area.

Calmer winds and cooler temperatures Tuesday may have helped the firefighters battling the blaze. But still, the wildfire was only 20 percent contained as of Wednesday. Fire spokeswoman Erin Phelps said Wednesday that about 150 more people had been brought in to fight the flames, bringing the total to 947.

According to the Coconino National Forest incident information website, firefighters have a game plan in place for Wednesday. They plan on building about 10 miles of line on the west side of the fire while focusing on securing the southern heel of the fire. The website says the eastern side of the fire remained secure overnight, and firefighters will continue to patrol and mop up, with helicopters and air tankers aiding ground crews.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the fire a "terrible situation," but she said she was "comforted by the competency of those fighting the fire and the heroes that are on the front lines."

Brewer said she'll be seeking grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for firefighting efforts, which have involved firefighters from Washington, California, Montana, Colorado, Idaho and other western states.

Residents had been evacuated from at least 756 properties, including two residential neighborhoods, an animal shelter and the grounds of the Sunset Crater and Wupatki national monuments. Many people stayed at a middle school in Flagstaff.

In the Timberline neighborhood, just up the dirt road from the Stanleys, a gas company employee returned service to Mike Diamond's home.

The carpenter decided not to leave his house and said he survived three days without gas or electricity by taking cold showers, barbecuing and drinking beer.

"I am just getting back to speed," Diamond said. "I was one of the ones who chose not to evacuate. I'm kind of on the other end; I am anxious to get out instead of get in. My wife was up in Alaska. She is on her way back, so it's nice that she'll be able to get back in the neighborhood."

Diamond roughed the fire with his two mutts, Molly and Lily.

"The fire kind of ebbed and flowed. Sometimes it seemed less threatening," Diamond said. "Monday afternoon early, it seemed real threatening, and I almost did bail out at that point."

Despite the progress, it may take two weeks to contain the blaze, fire officials said. No buildings have burned, but the Incident Information website says the Schultz Fire still threatens "residences, critical watersheds, and wilderness character."

Fighting the fire is a challenge because it has burned over steep, rugged terrain at elevations of between 7,000 to 10,500 feet. As of Wednesday morning, firefighters were using air tankers, seven helicopters, 62 engines and seven water tenders to battle the flames, according to the Incident Information website. The firefighting effort has cost about $1.83 million, according to the website.

CNN's Paul Vercammen and Mark Morgenstein contributed to this report.