Crown King residents can return home; forest remains closed
SPRING VALLEY - Crown King residents cheered at the news Friday morning that electricity was being restored at their homes Friday and they could return immediately.
They were evacuated on Mother's Day, May 13, when a home caught on fire and ignited the 16,240-acre Gladiator Fire about a mile north of Crown King's one-block business district. At least five homes and an outbuilding have been destroyed.
Yavapai County Sheriff's officials made the announcement during an 8 a.m. community meeting near the Gladiator Fire camp in Spring Valley.
"I do want to say thanks to the team and the fantastic efforts of the firefighters," Crown King Fire Chief Steve Lombardo said after the announcement this morning. "They did an outstanding job."
Arizona Public Service officials originally thought it would take until at least Wednesday to restore power to Crown King. But APS crews were able to get hole-digging equipment to more pole sites than they originally anticipated, spokesman Matt Meierbachtol said.
"We never thought we'd get it done this quick," he said. "We were thoroughly excited we were ahead of schedule."
Nineteen electricity poles burned along the fire's eastern flank near the main road up to Crown King from Cleator. APS crews had to hand-dig only five holes for new poles. Extra crews also sped up the work, Meierbachtol said.
Full-time residents lined up after the meeting to get special permits that allow them through the roadblocks near Cleator today.
The historic mining community of Crown King, located about 20 miles south of Prescott in the midst of the Prescott National Forest ponderosa pine forest, has only about 150 full-time residents.
Residents of Pine Flat and Turkey Creek, about 10 miles north of Crown King and two miles north of the fire perimeter, were to be allowed to head home a little later at 6 p.m. Friday. Their return was delayed because heavy equipment still was cutting up brush in the area.
Part-time Crown King residents can return at 8 a.m. Saturday. They number about 100.
A community meeting will take place at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Crown King fire station.
And then the public can go back up to Crown King at 8 a.m. Monday, which still is a holiday for many.
"The three-phase system works best for the community," YCSO Lt. Jeff Newman said.
All residents need special permits to return before Monday. They can pick them up 24 hours a day at the YCSO's substation at 13272 Central Ave. in Mayer.
Yavapai County is providing large trash receptacles where residents can dump spoiled food and refrigerators at no cost. County building officials will be available for field assessments about the safety of damaged structures. Red Cross will provide shelter and meals as needed. Call 800-842-7349.
APS and the local water system operator might need to restore home services, county officials said.
Lombardo also warned residents that about a dozen ridge-top homes could be covered in red fire retardant that heavy air tankers dropped.
But the downtown area still looks green, Lombardo said. And travelers still will see the desert give way to tall ponderosa pines as they cross the "Magic Bridge" into town.
While the public can visit Crown King starting Monday, the Prescott National Forest surrounding the community remains closed to everyone but firefighters. The firefighters still are on the ground fighting the blaze, especially the southwest corner around Towers Mountain.
Firefighters stopped the advancement of the blaze despite five consecutive days of National Weather Service red-flag warnings because of high winds and low humidity.
"It was a combination of the right people at the right place and right time," Gladiator Fire Incident Commander Joe Reinarz said.
The blaze was officially 35 percent contained Friday.
Firefighters continue to put out hot spots, especially in the southwest corner where they dumped 30,000 gallons of water Thursday.
"We're only one ember away from a flare-up," Reinarz said.
Gusty wind conditions along with a chance of lightning are in today's forecast.
Reinarz's Type I national incident management team plans to turn the firefighting efforts over to a local Type III crew Sunday.
A special fire investigator from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is continuing to help the YCSO investigate the cause of the house fire that ignited the Gladiator Fire, YCSO Lt. Wayne Loughrige said.