Anxious residents packed up prized possessions Tuesday as hundreds of firefighters worked to keep a wildfire in a forested Arizona city away from homes and hoped the weather might bring some relief.
About two dozen homes have been evacuated in Flagstaff, a popular mountain getaway in the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the U.S.
Residents of another 5,000 homes have been told to be prepared to flee the fire in Coconino National Forest.
Justina Ferrara and her grandmother readied for possible evacuation by gathering important documents, photographs and treasured family heirlooms such as Kachina dolls and Native American blankets.
Ferrara was more worried about the mountain than her home.
“It’s the devastation to what’s going on in the vegetation,” she said. “It’s not going to come back anytime soon.”
Another wildfire was burning near a nuclear energy research site in Idaho, prompting the evacuation of non-essential employees mainly because of wind changes and smoke.
The fire was located on about 10 square miles (16 square kilometers) of desert near the center of the 890-square mile (1,432 kilometer) property, away from the buildings that make up Idaho National Laboratory.
In Arizona, firefighters were expecting much-needed rain along with erratic winds at times that could shift the direction of the fire.
“If those winds kick up, that can cause real challenges for the firefighters,” fire information officer Steve Kliest said. “When it spots farther ahead than equipment and resources, it can be a real problem.”
Forecasters also warned of potential flooding if enough rain falls on scarred mountain slopes.
A top-tier federal team took over managing the fire late Monday, bringing more resources to fight the blaze and making it a priority regionally, incident Commander Rich Nieto said.
He estimated the fire had charred 2.8 square miles (7.2 square kilometers) in a mountain pass that’s a prime spot for recreation within minutes of downtown Flagstaff. The size will be updated after aerial mapping overnight.
The labyrinth of dirt trails in the Dry Lake Hills area attracts hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders to sweeping views, groves of aspen and the sound of frogs croaking in shallow water.
“That’s where the good surf is, akin to that notion,” Kyle Hornbeck, a mountain biker who owns a bike shop in town.
Campfires outside designated areas have been banned at Dry Hills Lake since 2017 under special restrictions.
Officials say the fire was human-caused but they haven’t determined exactly what started it.
Lightning sparked more than a dozen wildfires across northern Nevada, several in remote parts of the state. No injuries have been reported or structures damaged.
In southwestern Utah, a wildfire burning in dry grass destroyed a vacation home and a handful of outbuildings before being contained Monday
Associated Press writer Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this story.