Tue., 11:35 pm: Wildfire in northern Arizona forces evacuations

OAK CREEK CANYON, Ariz. – A wind-whipped wildfire near Slide Rock State Park in northern Arizona’s Oak Creek Canyon forced the evacuations of businesses and homes in a two-mile stretch north of the area this evening, authorities said.

Meanwhile, an estimated 100-acre brush fire sparked by a vehicle was 20 percent contained. It closed Interstate 17 near Cordes Junction in both directions for more than four hours, causing a traffic backup for miles on one of the main routes to northern Arizona.

The two fires sent numerous agencies rushing to fend off the blazes at a time when dry conditions have Arizona on high alert. Arizona officials are worried about the prospect of a devastating 2014 wildfire season amid a drought that has left the state with dangerously dry conditions.

The so-called Slide Fire was burning on the western slope of the canyon across the creek from Highway 89A, which was closed south of Flagstaff to north of Sedona, U.S. Forest Service officials said. The cause of the fire, which was reported about 4 p.m. today, wasn’t immediately known.

Forest Service officials estimated the fire was at 20 acres, but it appeared much bigger and large plumes of smoke were visible in the Slide Rock State Park area, which is a popular tourist and vacation spot.

Evacuations were ordered at West Fork, Pine Flat, Halfway, Cave Springs and other campgrounds and day-use areas in the upper canyon.