Arizona Residents Return to Some Areas Threatened by Fire

CAREFREE, Ariz. (AP) -- Residents who fled a windblown wildfire began returning home as the blaze continued to move away from their upscale community Friday.

''We want to get a message out: Come back home,'' Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said as evacuees returned to the Tonto Hills neighborhood. ''We'll protect you. We'll escort you to your residence.''

Sheriff's officials said nearly 100 people had returned by midmorning Friday to the subdivision of some 120 houses, including million-dollar homes, 20 miles northeast of Phoenix.

''All in all this fire's in good shape,'' said Art Morrison, a spokesman for the crews fighting the fire.

Residents hadn't been allowed back into Camp Creek, a community made up partly of summer residences. Fire officials said it wasn't safe for them to return and that there were still hot spots in the area.

The blaze has burned about 46,000 acres and initially forced the evacuation of 250 homes.

Eleven homes and three storage sheds were destroyed, all in the area around Camp Creek, said Morrison.

Marco D'Ambrosio and his wife were checking on the status of their home Thursday night when they learned they could return. ''I guess we're the lucky ones,'' D'Ambrosio said.

Authorities said the fire, which began Tuesday as two separate lightning-caused blazes that later merged, was 5 percent contained.

More than 620 firefighters used roads, ridges and other natural barriers to help them make a stand against the wildfire Thursday. They set fires in those areas and allowed them to run toward the body of the wildfire to burn fuel from its path.

Campers and boaters were asked to leave Bartlett Lake late Thursday after heavy smoke pushed toward the recreation area and 63 people voluntarily evacuated that area, according to authorities who said access to the lake was shut down.

Around Camp Creek, all that was left of some homes were chimneys or stoves sitting in fields of ash. Flames ran along some trees and ruins continued to smolder.

At least five destroyed structures were visible in an area toured by the media. Seven cabins survived, primarily those located along a creek.

Evacuee Eric Herrman briefly returned to his $1.5 million home in Tonto Hills on Thursday to retrieve some documents and clothing for his wife.

''It's our dream home,'' Herrman said. ''It took us five years to build.''