Firefighters use planes to battle wildfire that burned seven homes, forced evacuations

Thursday, May 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) _ Firefighters used aircraft and shovels Thursday in a struggle to tame a wind-whipped wildfire that burned seven homes and forced people to flee neighborhoods on the fringe of this mile-high city.

The 700-acre blaze was about three miles from downtown Prescott and threatened up to 2,000 homes on the city's edge, fire officials said. About 1,500 people had been evacuated.

``We're watching our city be threatened like we've never been threatened before,'' Mayor Rowle Simmons said. ``My concern is for the folks whose houses are threatened or have burned. There's a helpless feeling just watching because there's nothing I can do directly.''

Firefighters managed to redirect the blaze around some homes, and worked to strengthen a three-mile line put up to protect subdivisions.

``We still have to get through a pretty intense burning period,'' said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Dugger Hughes. ``All it takes is one ember and we're back at it again.''

Those who were evacuated could be out of their homes for another day or two, said Tom Bonomo, a safety officer for the Prescott National Forest.

The fire was first spotted Wednesday afternoon in the forest near Prescott, a city of 33,000 about 90 miles north of Phoenix. The cause was not immediately known.

It was the type of fire people had been dreading as northern Arizona came out of its driest fall and winter in more than 100 years.

``Out here they say it's not if it's going to happen, it's when. We knew this could happen. But you never think you'll be evacuated from your house,'' said John Martin, a 66-year-old retiree.

The fire was one of several in Arizona this week.

A blaze west of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff was reported 95 percent contained at 60 acres by Thursday. An 840-acre wildfire in the Coconino National Forest was 60 percent contained. No homes were threatened.