Firefighters start gaining control over Horse Fire burning in Prescott National Forest

A mandatory evacuation has been lifted for residents in Crown King and surrounding areas as firefighters have started to control a wildfire burning in the Prescott National Forest.

The Horse Fire, according to officials with the Prescott National Forest, was spotted around noon on Oct. 15. The fire is burning about six miles northwest of Crown King, and 18 miles south of Prescott.

The fire has burned 9,537 acres and is 74% contained, as of Oct. 25. It has been burning on juniper, chaparral, timber and 8-foot-high brush in a remote section of Prescott National Forest where firefighters face steep and rugged terrain.

Evacuations have been underway for Crown King and its surrounding communities, but residents were able to return to their homes starting on Oct. 23.

"From where we started it looked pretty bleak looking, but now it looks really positive, so I think we’re going to be OK," said David Henderson with the Crown King Fire Department.

Officials say much of the fire's perimeter has stopped smoldering, and only two areas in the northern part of the fire are still giving off smoke.

"Up north, only two areas show smoke, and they are deep into the interior of the Horse Fire and in the Towers Creek drainage but pose no threat," officials said on Oct. 24.

"There is a large portion of this fire is challenging terrain, to be able to insert resources, it wouldn’t be safe, so we’ve been using ground resources where we can, with the assistance of aircraft resources," said Fire Information Officer Ansgar Mitchell.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but fire officials believe it is likely human-caused.

"This is an unprecedented year for fire activity," officials said. The last fire recorded in October in the Prescott National Forest was in 2007 and was only 630 acres, according to authorities.

A hotshot crew with additional firefighters and support equipment arrived Sunday, Oct. 18 to help with the fire.


Crown King evacuated

On the morning of Oct. 16, more than 100 residents in Crown King were ordered to evacuate.

According to Carlson, there are about 300 structures in Crown King, including about a hundred homes.

"Tourism is my sole income, and it is the sole income of quite a few of the Crown King residents," said Christine Shill, who lives in Crown King. "It was approximately a hundred people who live full time in Crown King."

On Oct. 16, evacuees described the conditions they encountered.

"A lot of smoke, can’t see the sun much," said evacuee Jeremy Renshaw. "It’s climbing up towers, they're dropping lots of stuff from planes and helicopters to try to prevent it from going up towers and coming down to Crown King."

"We grabbed the Ps: the people, the pets, the pistols, the papers, and the pills, and there's a lot of personal things left behind and we're really hoping it's still there when we come back," said Shill.

Shill said guests in town have already left prior to the evacuation.

"They actually evacuated the guests on Thursday. They didn't want any people that they didn't know how to get ahold of to be stuck in Crown King and not have the information," said Shill.

Renshaw is worried mother nature, may not be on their side.

"Watching the wind yesterday, it was heading south. This is heading straight to our community right now. Straight toward us," said Renshaw.

A shelter has been set up at Mayer High School in Spring Valley. If you need assistance, you're asked to call 928-771-3260 or dial 911.

All roads leading into Crown King have been closed. This includes Goodwin, Senator Highway and County Road 59.

Crews dealing with unfavorable terrain and conditions

Officials say crews are dealing with unfavorable terrain.

"It’s really steep. The brush is difficult to move through. Hot dry and windy conditions we have," said Carlson.

Although it is mid-October, fire conditions currently are similar to that of mid-June.

"Typically in Arizona, the wildfire season peaks in May and June, and then once we start to get that moisture in July and August, knocks the fire season back, and we see a lot less fire activity across the state," said Jaret Rogers with the National Weather Service in Phoenix.

"We pretty much had no monsoon this year, so the fuels are at the same level as they were in June," said Carlson. "Temperatures up there is pushing 85°F. Those are conditions we see in June, summertime conditions. Not October."

Summer 2020 has turned out to be the hottest and driest on record for Arizona.

"Right now, 95% of the state is in severe or worse drought conditions, and three months ago, that number was right around 6%, so it’s deteriorated quickly already," said Rogers.

The Executive Director of Northern Arizona University's Ecological Restoration Institute, Andrew Sanchez Meador, says so far in 2020, more than 700,000 acres have burned across the state, more than 2018 and 2019 combined.

"Things have been getting worse, and we know they’ve been getting worse since the late 80’s," said Sanchez Meador. "There was the 1988 fire in Yellowstone, which was the eye-opening event that these wildfires can take out entire landscapes, and unfortunately in Arizona and in the West, we see this more and more frequently."

Rogers said with a La Niña weather pattern well-established, conditions are not panning out in our favor. Recently, NOAA released a winter outlook that points to warmer and drier than normal conditions.

"Really, if we keep getting hot and dry conditions, there is no reason why that’s not going to stop. It’s going to keep continuing basically," said Rogers.

Sanchez Meador says it is important for people to do their part.

"We need to work with our municipalities and communities to develop plans, things that refer to community wildfire protection plans, people need to think about how their houses need to be fire adaptive," said Sanchez Meador.

Ready, Set, Go evacuation stages explained:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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