By ERIC LEVENSON AND AMIR VERA, CNN
The sprawling Tinder Fire in Arizona has destroyed 33 primary homes and 54 minor structures since it was sparked by an abandoned illegal campfire two weeks ago, officials said.
Fueled by grass and understory, the wildfire in Coconino National Forest stretches over an estimated 15,841 acres. With the efforts of about 400 personnel with equipment — including 8 crews, 4 helicopters, 20 engines, 5 dozers, 1 water tender and other support staff — the blaze is 79 percent contained, officials said.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office had ordered evacuations last week for communities north, east and west of Highway 87. The evacuation order for communities in Blue Ridge were lifted on Friday, and residents began returning to their homes.
“We did have a house burn down in 1980 and it brings back memories, and it’s very sad for the people that lost everything,” Sharon Bourne told CNN affiliate KNXV.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Coconino County last week in response to the fire. He said in a statement it would ensure “the necessary resources to protect the lives, pets and property of Arizonans.”
Fire restrictions were 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 last Friday while stage one fire restrictions were in place. Those 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.”
Above normal temperatures this week
There is a warming trend for the entire Southwest region going into the week. Temperatures in and around the Tinder Fire area will run 10-15 degrees above normal for this time of year, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said.
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