- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 28, 2016

CORDES LAKES, Ariz. (AP) - Firefighters dealt with volatile weather late Tuesday as they battled a brush fire in central Arizona that forced evacuations and the intermittent closure of a major highway.

The fire burning along Interstate 17 near the Cordes Junction north of Phoenix charred more than a square mile after being sparked earlier in the day.

The blaze was initially moving north but then shifted to the south, U.S. Bureau of Land Management fire information officer Dolores Garcia said.

“We’re feeling the effects of some of the thunderstorm buildup in the area,” Garcia said. “It’s causing some outflow winds, strong, gusty erratic winds that are really proving to be challenging for firefighters.”

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office called for mandatory evacuations in portions of Cordes Lakes earlier in the day. Crews have managed to keep flames from reaching any structures, Garcia said.

Tuesday night, the Arizona Republic reported that evacuees living east of I-17 were being allowed to return home, after the fire crews reported they had the blaze 50 percent contained.

Multiple engines, water-dropping helicopters and air tankers were assigned to the fire

Gov. Doug Ducey issued a warning to residents Tuesday, asking that they stay alert and follow the directives of local and state authorities. He said his office is in close contact with the state forester and the departments of public safety and transportation.

“The state is prepared to provide all resources, assets and assistance necessary to protect area residents and natural resources,” he said in a statement.

In eastern Arizona, authorities say firefighters battling a blaze that has blackened almost 72 square miles on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation were forced to use their fire shelters following a sudden change in fire activity.

Officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Fort Apache Agency said the firefighters were able to walk out of the area once it cooled, and none suffered life-threatening injuries.

It’s not clear what may have caused the change in fire behavior, and officials said an extensive investigation would follow given that deploying a fire shelter is considered a serious incident.

The blaze has been burning since June 15 and is 75 percent contained. The crew was working along the southern edge of the fire when the incident occurred.

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