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Schultz fire near Flagstaff, Arizona now over 10,000 acres

Schultz fire near Flagstaff has grown to over 10,000 acres. High temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds have challenged firefighters.

By Felicia FonsecaAP / June 21, 2010

Schultz Fire burns behind homes along Monday, June 21, 2010 in Flagstaff, Ariz. More than 300 firefighters are battling the Northern Arizona blaze.

AP

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Flagstaff

When Jon Stoner opens the blinds to a front window in his home "it's a piece of heaven," he says. Acres of ponderosa pine trees stretch into the distance, staggering up a mountain and bringing a sense of calmness to the area northeast of Flagstaff.

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With an 10,000-acre wildfire burning nearby, Stoner is unsure how much of that scenery will remain in tact. As he evacuated his home Sunday, he looked out that same window and saw flames shooting up above the trees.

"That's scary," he said from a shelter where a community briefing was held a day later. "It moves fast."

The combination of high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds have challenged firefighters on the ground and in the air. Sustained winds of up to 20 mph with gusts of more than 30 mph grounded heavy air tankers Monday.

Fire crews battling the so-called Schultz fire were focused Monday on protecting homes in the fire's path by digging trenches, clearing out dry brush and spraying them down. The flames reached the back yards of some homes while coming within a few hundred feet of others, said incident commander Dugger Hughes. No structures have burned.

"The homes are looking very secure right now," he said.

Residents of several hundred homes remained under evacuation orders, and Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil urged them to be patient while crews worked to suppress the blaze.

"At this time we're not prepared to put people back in their homes," he said at a Monday evening briefing.

The fire is believed to have been started by an abandoned campfire, and authorities were looking for anyone who might have more information. The fire is burning in rough terrain, consuming ponderosa pine, mixed conifer and dry brush.

Rolling clouds of black and gray smoke choked out the sky north of Flagstaff, and bright red and orange flames shot up more than 60 feet in the air. The smoke lingered over roadways, forcing drivers to use headlights in daylight hours.

Hughes said crews would fly over the area early Tuesday morning to get a better idea of the perimeter and of spot fires, some of which have jumped up to a half-mile ahead of the fire.

Flagstaff, a mountain town of about 60,000, is a popular place for tourists and home to Northern Arizona University. A ski resort and snowfall lure visitors during the winter. Moderate summer temperatures provide an escape from more intense desert heat during the summer.

Areas just north of Flagstaff that are under evacuation orders are a mix of upscale, manufactured, ranch-style and second homes that sit at the foot of the mountains and beyond.

Doris Gilmer, 54, lives in a manufactured home that is on 2.5 acres — the first home she ever purchased. She has been diligent in making sure the brush is cleared and wood is stacked away from the home to help protect it from wildfire.