June 22, 2006

Nearly 700 firefighters attack blaze in Arizona

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Nearly 700 firefighters mounted an
all-out assault on Thursday against a stubborn wildfire raging
out of control in a scenic spot in central Arizona, fire
officials said.

Calling it a "critical day," they said crews battled on the
ground and with air tankers and helicopters in an attempt to
gain control of the fire that has blackened 3,256 acres (1,318
hectares) near Sedona, about 90 miles north of Phoenix.

An estimated 460 homes and businesses remain evacuated but
no structures have been lost since the fire started Sunday and
there have been no serious injuries.

"The firefighters are hopeful, but it's far from being
out," said Connie Birkland, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.
"We've got a long ways to go."

Firefighters concentrated their efforts on Thursday on a
critical highway that snakes through the area and has served as
a natural barrier against the fire from spreading to homes in
renowned Oak Creek Canyon, a red rock area visited by millions
of tourists.

Crews also worked on another trouble spot on the fire's
northern edge, trying to stop in its tracks the most active
part of the blaze, fire officials said.

The fire was 7 percent contained as of early Thursday.

Officials believe that the fire was started by transients
at a campground, and have offered a reward of up to $5,000 for
information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people

The so-called Brins Fire is the latest in what is expected
to be an extremely active fire season in drought-stricken
Arizona and across the bone-dry southwestern United States.