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Arizona residents evacuate as fierce wildfire rages

By Michael Martinez and Kevin Conlon, CNN
updated 3:51 AM EDT, Sat May 24, 2014
True Brown, left, of the Blue Ridge Hotshots, and Mark Adams of the Mormon Lake Hotshots take a high vantage point as spotters for those fighting a wildfire near Flagstaff, Arizona, on Friday, May 23. The fast-growing fire, dubbed the Slide Fire because it is just north of Slide Rock State Park, threatens several hundred homes and rental cabins in the area. True Brown, left, of the Blue Ridge Hotshots, and Mark Adams of the Mormon Lake Hotshots take a high vantage point as spotters for those fighting a wildfire near Flagstaff, Arizona, on Friday, May 23. The fast-growing fire, dubbed the Slide Fire because it is just north of Slide Rock State Park, threatens several hundred homes and rental cabins in the area.
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The Slide Fire in Arizona
The Slide Fire in Arizona
The Slide Fire in Arizona
The Slide Fire in Arizona
The Slide Fire in Arizona
The Slide Fire in Arizona
The Slide Fire in Arizona
The Slide Fire in Arizona
The Slide Fire in Arizona
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fire has scorched 8,500 acres near Flagstaff since Tuesday
  • Dust-dry pine needles, high winds and steep slopes make for ideal fire conditions
  • Hundreds of homes, businesses are threatened and have been evacuated
  • The blaze is only 5% contained three days after it was first reported

Near Flagstaff, Arizona (CNN) -- As one of hundreds of evacuees in Arizona's raging wildfire, Serena Chesmore valued family over home.

She ensured the safety of the most precious things in the world: her family and pets.

Her house in Kachina Village, after all, is replaceable, Chesmore said Friday.

Fire torches Arizona, residents prepare
Nearly 5,000 acres burned in Arizona

"The kids, the pets, the photos -- they can't be replaced," Chesmore said.

Chesmore is hoping, nonetheless, that 960 firefighters will be able to save her house and 300 other homes and businesses from an Arizona forest fire roaring through park land. She made an early jump on a pre-evacuation notice given to about 3,200 residents in Coconino County.

The online Incident Information System reported Friday night that much of the fire burned with lower intensity throughout the day, allowing firefighters to make some progress.

However, despite that progress, the total area scorched climbed to 8,500 acres that night, and the containment level held steady at 5%.

The equivalent of a battalion of firefighters, including 15 hotshot crews and three air tankers, have been fighting the fire between Flagstaff and Sedona -- a tourist and retirement destination famed for its red rock formations -- since Tuesday afternoon.

Firefighters face rough conditions

Tony Sciacca, a fire incident commander, says it's been an uphill battle for the firefighters battling the blaze.

"They're engaged in tough terrain, cutting vegetation, applying fire to the landscape as they need to in burnout operations," Sciacca said.

Area residents took to Facebook on Friday to thank them.

"Thank you again for your tireless work on this monster," Mavis Kimball posted to the Slide Fire Information Facebook page. "We who call this place home so appreciate you."

"So thankful the best of the best are here on the Slide Fire," wrote Terry Schneider.

Dust-dry pine needles, high winds and steep slopes have made for ideal conditions for the fire to spread rapidly, fire officials say. And it has.

The flames that investigators fear were ignited by human hands appear to have consumed hundreds of acres in a few hours' time, according to officials.

The wind has blasted vigorously and erratically through fiery gulches, with gusts up to 30 mph, but has not blown towards the populated Flagstaff area.

Alaska wildfire

Meanwhile, in Alaska, a much larger fire that began burning Monday was 15% contained by Friday evening, Alaska's Interagency Incident Management Team said.

The Funny River Fire had consumed nearly 67,084 acres of Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge by Friday night.

It has so far posed less of a threat to humans than the one burning in Arizona: no evacuations or injuries have been reported.

There were more than 370 firefighters battling the blaze.

Officials say access to the fire is difficult.

Investigators suspect human action was the cause, but this is still under investigation.

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CNN's Ana Cabrera reported from Arizona. Ben Brumfield reported from Atlanta and Michael Martinez reported and wrote from Los Angeles. CNN's Steve Almasy and Shawn Nottingham also contributed to this report.

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