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A wildfire south of Interstate 40 in Flagstaff Saturday that grew to between 500 and 600 acres forced the evacuation of 170 homes and temporarily closed Little America Hotel.

No structures were damaged or destroyed, and no injuries were reported.

About 150 personnel, including all on- and off-duty Flagstaff firefighters, responded to the blaze, dubbed the Hardy fire. Crews from Summit, Highlands and the U.S. Forest Service also responded.

Two air tankers and three heavy-duty helicopters made repeated slurry and water drops on the fire, which spread northeast from the ignition point through the ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper forest as wind gusts reached 35 mph.

Two aircraft were borrowed from the Eagle Rock fire north of Parks, which was relatively quiet Saturday.

TOWERING CLOUDS

Dense, towering clouds of smoke filled the sky over the southeast part of the city, although I-40 was never closed. Off ramps at Butler and Country Club were temporarily closed but had reopened by Saturday night.

A major APS power line in the vicinity was shut down after power was rerouted, and no power outages were reported.

The fire was called in at 1 p.m. by a passing motorist. It started near the eastern end of J.W. Powell Boulevard, and police detained a person for questioning.

Jessie Perkins, 27, was arrested by Flagstaff police for illegal camping, but as of Saturday night he had not been charged in connection with the wildfire, which fire officials say was human-caused.

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LITTLE AMERICA REOPENED

By nightfall, Little America had reopened but the other evacuations remained in force overnight because of dense, low-lying smoke.

A total of 11 people evacuated from the Sinagua Heights and Herold Ranch neighborhoods were expected to spend the night at Mount Elden Middle School, where the Red Cross was operating an emergency overnight shelter.

The Coconino Humane Association south of Butler Avenue was evacuated and about 60 animals were taken to the Second Chance Center for Animals in Doney Park, where they remained overnight.

Residents of Foxglenn, Continental and Amberwood received emergency telephone notification to be on standby for evacuation, but those neighborhoods were not evacuated by the time winds died down Saturday night.

City fire engines were stationed overnight in threatened neighborhoods and at Little America to provide structure protection, while firefighters in the forest worked to control hot spots. A regional Type II Incident Management Team will take over operations this morning.

Fire officials said they expected mop-up operations to take between two and four days.

Winds today are expected to pick up by afternoon to 19 to 22 mph, with gusts up to 31 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Bellemont.

For information about evacuations, the number to call is (888) 679-8393.

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