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A Skycrane helictoper dumps 2,000 gallons of water on the Slide Fire as it burns up Oak Creek Canyon on Friday, May 23, 2014, near Flagstaff, Ariz. / Ross D. Franklin, AP

PHOENIX -- Firefighters continued to make progress Saturday battling a wildfire near Sedona, but rugged terrain was preventing them from getting to the firelines, and officials expect it to double in size before it comes under control.

Oak Creek Canyon and its campgrounds remain closed over the holiday weekend, with residents and businesses being told it could be a week before they are allowed to return.

And two communities between Sedona and Flagstaff placed on alert to evacuate if the fire gets close remained in limbo as fire officials said it was still too early to lift the warning.

The Slide Fire remained at 5 percent containment for a third day, with the blaze increasing to about 16.5 square miles, according to fire officials.

The growth was expected.

"The take-home here is crews are making good progress still, making it safer for firefighters," said Slide Fire incident commander Tony Sciacca.

Two days ago, the fire pushed firefighters out of the position near the Oak Creek Canyon Overlook, Flagstaff fire Capt. Bill Morse said.

"Now we're controlling it, we're holding it well," he said.

Morse said the cool air Friday night created a lid holding down the smoke coming out of the canyon. However with the sun shining Saturday, the layer is expected to break, pulling all the heat and smoke with embers in it, up out of the canyon.

"Once that inversion breaks, we can see really dramatic, somewhat extreme fire behavior," Morse said. "We're prepared for that."

Morse said with the winds picking up by 20 mph throughout Saturday afternoon, spot fires are expected.

With nearly a thousand personnel, they are "ready to jump on anything that happens," he said.

Hundreds of firefighters spent Friday building a wide perimeter of containment lines to box in the fire, using roads as natural boundaries, in the hopes of keeping it from torching homes and cabins in Oak Creek Canyon and from reaching the communities of Kachina Village and Forest Highlands.

The human-caused fire broke out Tuesday, closing Oak Creek Canyon, a popular scenic route between Sedona and Flagstaff, and Slide Rock State Park.

Within 24 hours, the wildfire had climbed canyon walls and exploded from 450 acres to 7 square miles, fanned by strong winds.

A combination of improved weather conditions and an influx of elite firefighting crews and air tankers have made incident commanders confident of making more progress.

Contributing: The Associated Press



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Ariz. fire expected to double in size

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