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California man arrested in Arizona wildfire [Updated]

June 20, 2010 | 12:55 pm

Arizona authorities Sunday morning arrested a California man suspected of starting a 350-acre fire in Flagstaff that had been burning for about 24 hours and led to the evacuation of homes.

Randall Wayne Nicholson, 54, allegedly started a small campfire with hot coals Saturday morning in a wooded area on the outskirts of the city, said Gerry Blair, spokesman for the Coconino County sheriff’s office.

The fire broke out later in the day, around 1 p.m. It is continuing to burn, fueled by high winds, Blair says. About 170 homes and a large motel have been evacuated, but no structures have caught fire, and no major injuries have been reported.

Nicholson, whom authorities describe as a transient, faces a misdemeanor charge of burning wild land. He was being held in lieu of $2,500 bail.

[Updated at 6:10 pm: Fire authorities lifted the evacuation orders for the original fire Sunday evening, after it was 30% contained and resulted in the loss of no structures. By that time, law and fire officials had began instructing more than 1,000 households to leave neighborhoods closer to a separate, larger fire racing across national forests 4 miles north of Flagstaff.
The second fire, spotted Sunday morning near Shultz Pass, had charred 3,000 acres. It forced the closure of U.S. Highway 89 northeast of Flagstaff as well as evacuation orders for more than 1,000 households in the three different neighborhoods, said Mackenzie Nuno, a spokeswoman for the joint team of 300 county and federal firefighters battling the blaze. “It’s incredible what these firefighters are doing,” she said. “They are working so hard.”
Both fires have been driven by high winds, with gusts up to 50 miles an hour, Nuno said.

-- Victoria Kim and Kenneth R. Weiss