Crews battle wind-whipped wildfire in northern Arizona

PHOENIX Wed May 21, 2014 2:57pm EDT

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - A wind-whipped fire burned through a popular scenic canyon in northern Arizona on Wednesday, charring more than 800 acres and threatening about 100 residences and businesses, fire officials said.

More than 200 firefighters were battling the so-called Slide Fire that prompted the evacuation late on Tuesday afternoon of an undetermined number of residents along a two-mile stretch in Oak Creek Canyon, about 120 miles north of Phoenix.

"It's an important day ...," said Brady Smith, a Coconino Forest Service spokesman. "More people are on the way to help."

Smith said the area burned was expected to grow to more than 1,000 acres by nightfall with winds gusting at 30 miles per hour above the rim of the canyon.

Fifteen hotshot crews, 10 initial attack crews, 40 fire engines and an air tanker will join the fire-fighting efforts, Smith said, and an elite Type 1 incident management team was expected later in the day.

Smith said crews will be attacking a fire that has been slowly moving to the north and creeping up steep canyon walls. Crews are stationed above and below the fire.

The fire, believed to be human-caused, broke out at about 4 p.m. local time north of Slide Rock State Park, a popular recreation area. It quickly grew from initial reports of 20 acres, aided by heavy wind gusts.

The American Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at a middle school in nearby Flagstaff, Arizona, for those forced to flee their homes.

(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and James Dalgleish)

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