Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Crown King fire claims fourth house

CROWN KING – The number of homes lost in a fire near Crown King increased to four after fire crews touring areas that had been inaccessible through the week discovered another burned house on Friday, officials said.

The total number of buildings burned in the blaze that has chewed through 15 square miles of forest and forced the evacuation of the mountain town was also revised to 11, up from the earlier count of seven. The fire is still just 10 percent contained.

All were burned in the first two days of the fire, which broke out late on June 28.

Fire crews working the 9,600-acre fire 20 miles southeast of Prescott are still protecting the town and nearby Horsethief Basin, while others work to beef up fire lines.

The threat to the historic mining community has lessened, said fire spokesman Terry Stemmler.

But it is still there and officials won’t let residents return until they’re confident they will be safe.

“The last thing we want to do is let folks go back in and have this thing blow up again,” Stemmler said.

The fire is believed to have been caused by lost hikers either seeking warmth or as a signal.

Residents of about 400 homes in the resort area were being warned they may need to evacuate just hours after the blaze erupted.

Because many are vacation cabins, when the order came just after noon on June 29 only about 120 residents were in town. A handful refused to leave and are still in their homes.

More than 600 firefighters aided by seven aircraft were battling the flames on Friday, Stemmler said. Ten fire engine crews and two hand crews were rotated off the fire overnight.

The possibility of rain over the weekend could help the effort.

A thunderstorm that moved through parts of the Phoenix area late Thursday missed the fire area.

The fire is now most active about two miles east and southeast of town, in areas called Hell’s Hole and Twin Peaks. But the terrain is so rough that it is mainly being battled to the south along fire roads.

On Friday, fire incident commander Tony Sciacca flew over the fire “and thought it was looking real good,” fire spokeswoman Lori Cook said.

She said the fire was moving into the rocky Castle Creek Wilderness area east of Crown King, which officials were hoping would slow the fire down.

“It looks like it’s doing that, and that’s a good thing,” Cook said.

Gov. Janet Napolitano toured the fire area by helicopter on Thursday, and returned with a warning to Arizona residents to be careful over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Napolitano said careless behavior could easily touch off another fire in the state’s dry forests.

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