Firefighters battling the first major wildfire in Arizona this season are "holding their own," the incident commander said Wednesday afternoon.
"We've got the toe of the fire anchored so out firefighters are safe and the fire will not come around them," said Tony Sciacca.
"On the west flank, those operations are pushing a line for a burnout operations that will happen this evening," Sciacca said at a news briefing. "On the east side, no structures are lost and fire crews are actively engaging the fire."
Additional equipment and Hot Shot crews arrived Wednesday to help battle the Doce Fire. Sciacca said the number of personnel on scene totals 672. There also are five heavy air tankers, five helicopters and five fixed-wing aircraft helping the efforts in the area about eight miles northwest of Prescott.
"We still have lots of threats out there," Sciacca said. "Please be patient with us."
A community meeting open to all area residents is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Prescott High School auditorium.
Fire crews worked throughout the night to keep the flames from spreading into the American Ranch residential area, where Sciacca said the flames were "right up to the back porches" of some of the homes.
He said a DC10 tanker dropped eight loads of retardant in the American Ranch area to prevent the flames from reaching the homes.
Sciacca said 460 homes overall had been evacuated.
A spokesman for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the American Red Cross said seven evacuees spent the night at a makeshift shelter at the Yavapai College gymnasium. There is room for 330 people inside the gym at 1100 E. Sheldon St., in Prescott, where Red Cross volunteers have set up cots and blankets for overnight stays. Meals, snacks, water and coffee will be available.
Prescott Valley Racetrack owner Gary Miller has offered 150 stalls for evacuated horses and Fairgrounds RV park is offering 80 RV sites free of charge with electricity, water and sewer hookups available for self-contained RVs. There are no public restrooms, showers or laundry.
The fire had burned nearly 6.500 acres, a total revised down from about 7,000 acres after infrared readings were taken Wednesday morning. Sciacca said the fire burned as fast as 500 to 600 acres an hour on Tuesday.
No structures had been lost up to Sciacca's comments at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Sciacca said the fire was fast-moving and that the weather could present a bigger challenge if winds increased on Thursday, but that crews were working hard to find a pinch point to begin containment of the fire.
He said as long as winds stayed below 30 to 35 mph, crews would still be able to safely battle the fire. But he emphasized he was taking no chances on placing their lives in danger.
"I am always concerned about firefighters' safety," Sciacca said.
The steep, rocky country is rife with flashy, flammable fuels, Sciacca said. The aerial assault would continue as long as winds allowed, but "boots on the ground" would be necessary to follow up because the retardant is effective only about 60 to 90 minutes.
In related news, Prescott High School will become the Incident Command Center and all summer school programs have been moved to Mile High Middle School, according to a school spokeswoman.
The spread of the fire is impacting mail delivery for more than 2,000 addresses in Prescott's 86305 ZIP code area. Postal customers on routes normally accessed via Williamson Valley Road and Outer Loop Road are affected by those road closures.
Mail to the affected addresses will be held at the Prescott Main Post Office, 442 Miller Valley Rd., and can be picked up from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Customers are asked to present photo identification to obtain their mail.
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