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Firefighters keep Arizona wildfire from advancing on homes

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Crews battling a major wildfire along a scenic corridor in northern Arizona stopped the wind-whipped blaze's march toward homes in the area on Thursday, but thousands of residents still may be forced to evacuate, fire officials said.

Officials said crews working overnight secured a troublesome front of the so-called Slide Fire that the day before had advanced toward 300 homes and businesses in Oak Creek Canyon, about 120 miles north of Phoenix.

The fire, which broke out on Tuesday afternoon, has blackened more than 4,800 acres and it remained at zero percent containment.

"For the short term, that northeast corner, where the fire was pushing all day yesterday, is kind of in check," Incident Commander Tony Sciacca told reporters. "That does not mean that we're out of the woods."

More than 3,000 residents in two area subdivisions have been put on a pre-evacuation notice by authorities and told they must prepare to flee their homes if the fire gets closer.

Officials estimated the blaze was more than three miles away.

Sciacca said a stray ember could quickly spread the fire, adding that "a pre-evacuation is just what it says, be ready."

Some residents living along a two-mile (4-km) stretch near the canyon were evacuated late on Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

More than 800 firefighters were on the scene, trying to gain control of the fire that broke out in steep terrain and grew quickly, aided by strong, gusty winds.

Officials reported that weather conditions should improve during the next several days, with reduced winds, higher humidity and a chance of precipitation.

The fire, believed to have been caused by humans, broke out north of Slide Rock State Park, a popular recreation area.

No homes have been lost and there have been no injuries, officials said.

The American Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at a middle school in nearby Flagstaff, Arizona, for those forced to flee their homes.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis; and Peter Galloway)

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