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I-17 near Phoenix almost full open, part of nearby town evacuated by wildfire

Smoke from the Bug Creek Fire that closed I-17 is shown. (Twitter Photo/@blmazfire)

PHOENIX — A brush fire that forced the closure of Interstate 17 north of Phoenix and the evacuation of part of a small town was 50 percent contained early Wednesday.

The Bug Creek Fire began burning Tuesday afternoon near Cordes Lakes, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said. It was threatening structures and had claimed 1,000 acres.

The southbound side of the highway was reopened Tuesday around 1:35 p.m., the Arizona Department of Transportation said, but was closed again about 3 p.m. because of a shift in the winds.

The northbound lanes were closed the longest. Backups stretched at least five miles.

Nearly all lanes were reopened by 3:20 p.m., but Yavapai County sheriffs were working to clear the Sunset Point Rest Area. The left northbound lane reopened by 8:15 p.m.

The fire also damaged guardrails on I-17.

ADOT officials said roadway conditions could change quickly and drivers should be prepared. Some traffic was forced to turn around after the wind shifted yet again, causing the fire to burn adjacent to the highway and stopped traffic.

Residents from a portion of the nearby town of Cordes Lakes were evacuated because of the fire. The order affected about 150 homes. The evacuation was lifted just after 9 p.m.

Other residents of the town were under a pre-evacuation notice. No homes have been lost. A shelter was established at Mayer High School.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey released a statement reminding Arizonans living or traveling through Yavapai County to stay alert and follow any directives issued by local and state authorities. He said

“I encourage all Arizonans near the affected area to avoid Interstate 17 if possible, given intermittent closures,”Ducey said.

Ducey said his office was in communication with state agencies and that the state is prepared to provide resources, assets and assistance. 

The freeway was closed at Cordes Junction, a joining of several major roads about an hour north of Phoenix that connects many northern Arizona cities and towns.

Northbound drivers were encouraged to take State Route 87 to State Route 260 west to Camp Verde where they can reconnect with the highway.

Those headed southbound were asked to take SR 260 east to SR 87, which winds toward the Phoenix area.

Several fire crews and aircraft — including air tankers — were called in to help fight the flames.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

The closure comes as the state prepares for a busy Fourth of July travel weekend. More than one million Arizonans are expected to hit the road and Flagstaff — connected to the Phoenix area by I-17 — is a popular destination.

KTAR’s Mike Sackley contributed to this report.

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