Officials hope to reopen a portion of a major roadway and allow more residents to head home on Friday in central Arizona where firefighters have gained significant ground against a fierce, six-day-old wildfire that forced thousands to evacuate.
The blaze, dubbed the Goodwin Fire, has charred nearly 25,000 acres (10,120 hectares) and destroyed an unknown number of homes after erupting on Saturday in the Prescott National Forest, 70 miles (113 km) north of Phoenix.
Stoked by high winds as it roared through dense, sun-baked chaparral, the blaze raged largely unchecked for the first few days, but by late Thursday evening firefighting teams had managed to carve containment lines around 43 percent of the perimeter.
With the gain firefighters have made, authorities plan to reopen a portion of Highway 69 in Mayer and begin re-populating the east side of nearby Poland Junction on Friday, according to local media.
“This is a very positive step,” Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher said during a meeting with community members on Thursday, the Daily Courier reported.
Authorities lifted evacuation orders on Thursday for several parts of the area, including Mayer, a town of 1,400 people which was evacuated on Tuesday.
As of late Thursday, about 2,000 people remained displaced in neighboring communities and about 1,400 children at summer camps in the area were also sent home, according to sheriff officials.
A force of about 800 firefighters, backed by airplane tankers dumping payloads of flame-retardant chemicals, benefited from diminished winds and increased humidity in the region which helped slow the fire’s growth and intensity, officials said.
No serious injuries have been reported.
The Goodwin blaze was one of more than two dozen large, active wildfires reported burning on Thursday across Arizona and eight other U.S. states.
Heavy rainfall in parts of the West over the winter and spring helped delay the onset of the fire season, but also spurred the growth of dense vegetation that has now dried out and become highly combustible as summertime heat sets in.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien, editing by Ed Osmond)