CROWN KING, Ariz. – Fueled by high winds, a wildfire that has prompted the evacuation of a historic mining town in northern Arizona nearly tripled in size.
The fire in the Prescott National Forest grew to an estimated 5,400 acres, or nearly 8 1/2 square miles, Wednesday night — up from about 2,000 acres a day earlier.
High winds have helped fan the flames, and fire officials were expecting much of the same conditions for the next couple of days.
Most of Crown King's 350 residents had already evacuated their homes before Taryn Denyce finally left earlier Wednesday, feeling she had no other choice.
She didn't fear for her life, nor for the bed and breakfast she took over from her parents a few years ago that was being powered by a generator.
Instead, authorities mistakenly told her she could be arrested if she didn't leave, even if she was on her own property, Yavapai County sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said. When a sheriff's official showed up at her door in downtown Crown King and offered to help pack her truck, she reluctantly left.
"I felt I had no choice. I was raised a Catholic girl," said the 48-year-old retired nurse. "I follow the rules, and if he's telling me 'it's time to go Taryn,' it's time to go."
The winds were pushing the blaze away from the community of mostly summer homes about 85 miles north of Phoenix. But fire incident spokeswoman Michelle Fidler said winds could shift and push the fire back into the community where it started and possibly threaten some communications towers in the area.
Road access also is a concern. Fewer than 10 residents remain in their homes, D'Evelyn said, and they could become trapped if the flames cross or block access roads.
Firefighters also would be pulled out if that happens, Fidler said.
Most of the 350 residents initially chose to stay in the town that's popular for all-terrain vehicles because of its numerous hills and gorges. But D'Evelyn said sheriff's officials persuaded about 20 of the 30 residents still left early Wednesday morning to go — including Denyce.
"Most people have come down from the hill," he said. "We want them all down. We don't want to have to worry about anyone who doesn't need to be up there."
The fire has destroyed two homes and a trailer, and prompted an evacuation order on Sunday. The fire started at an occupied home, but fire investigators have yet to determine the cause. It remained 5 percent contained Wednesday.
Denyce gathered what she could from her home in 20 minutes and is now staying with a friend in Glendale. She said she would rather be protecting her property and trying to keep her business viable but now is prohibited from returning, as are other residents who have left.
"I have my daughter and my animals and I'm just happy we're out, but I don't think I was in imminent danger," she said.
Smoke from a larger fire that began Saturday south of Payson drifted into Phoenix over the weekend. U.S. Forest Service officials said the 12,500-acre blaze was burning in the high wilderness area of the Tonto National Forest and was 10 percent contained. No structures were threatened.
Another wildfire in the Tonto National Forest northeast of Young was at about 1,900 acres Wednesday but 15 percent contained. That fire was believed to be lightning-caused and wasn't threatening any structures.
The fires follow a warning from Arizona land managers that hot temperatures and dry vegetation have created a very high fire risk in some parts of the state.
In northern Colorado, 200 firefighters were battling a 1,000-acre blaze that is 5 percent contained. Two groups of residents have been told to prepare for evacuations, but no one has had to leave. The fire was within a quarter-mile of some homes.
The U.S. Forest Service says the fire was caused by humans. The investigation into how it started is continuing.