A fast-growing Arizona wildfire destroyed or damaged at least 41 homes or other structures in the past week, forcing evacuations and a state of emergency in one county.
The blaze was almost 50 percent contained by Friday morning and authorities prepared to let residents return to their property. But predicted rising temperatures are leaving wildlife managers uneasy, prompting tightened fire restrictions and warnings that wildfire season could be unusually bad.
“In the last 20 years this is the most catastrophic event the county has seen as far as home loss or damage to property,” said Matt Rudig, a spokesman for Coconino County, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.
The fire began last week and had burned more than 12,000 acres by Thursday. More than 1,000 people were forced to evacuate as hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze.
It was sparked by an abandoned, illegal campfire. Investigators have not found the person responsible.
“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,” Andy Pederson, Forest Service patrol captain for northern Arizona, said in a statement.
The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management said Tuesday it would impose Stage 2 fire restrictions for much of the state. The limits, which usually don’t go into effect until June, bar fires and campfires, smoking, fireworks and other activities in certain areas.
Officials were optimistic about controlling the fire, thanks to damp weather and cool conditions. But authorities warned that conditions are ripe for further trouble.
“This is an extremely dry and dangerous fire season and people need to be extremely cautious,“Matt Ryan, chairman of the Coconino County board of supervisors, said in a statement. “A single spark can ruin peoples’ lives and destroy the forests we love.”