A wildfire burning near Flagstaff, Arizona, has damaged or destroyed 41 homes, according to Matthew Rudig, spokesman for Coconino County.
The blaze, dubbed the Tinder Fire, was caused by an abandoned illegal campfire, according to US Forest Service investigators.
The fire has burned 11,423 acres with 7% containment since it began Friday, the Forest Service said. As of Wednesday evening, 695 firefighters were battling the flames.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Coconino County on Monday in response to the growing fire.
"I'm issuing today's declaration to ensure that they have the necessary resources to protect the lives, pets and property of Arizonans," Ducey said in a statement.
The Coconino County Sheriff's Office ordered evacuations Sunday for communities north, east and west of Highway 87.
The order remained in effect Wednesday. "The evacuated area is still very dangerous with exposed hazardous waste, damaged propane tanks, downed power lines, hazard trees and other safety issues," the county said.
Authorities are developing a strategy to allow evacuated residents to return to their homes once the area has been secured. "The first to re-enter will be the residents of the confirmed 41 destroyed or heavily damaged homes," the county said. "Those homeowners will be allowed in prior to other evacuated community members so that they can have time to process their losses."
Fire restrictions ignored
Finding the person or persons who set the illegal fire will be difficult, because witnesses are "often nonexistent," Coconino National Forest authorities said.
The fire was reported around midday on Friday, while stage one fire restrictions were in place. Stage one restrictions prohibit "building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire" anywhere other than a developed campsite or picnic area. The restrictions were put in place in expectation of extreme fire potential due to weather conditions. Stage two restrictions, which prohibit campfires anywhere, have been in effect since Tuesday.
"Any time we enter restrictions or have even closed the forest, we still continue to find abandoned and illegal campfires," said Andy Pederson, with US Forest Service. "This shows extreme lack of care for public safety and our natural resources when people would have an illegal campfire, much less abandon an illegal campfire."
The fire also caused major road closures, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The Arizona Public Service, a state electric company, said via Twitter that it was "coordinating with emergency personnel" and was ready to de-energize lines if needed.