Rim Country Dotted With Wildfires

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The thunderstorm that passed through northern Gila County over the weekend did little to moisten the arid high desert. Instead, lightning strikes from the storm sparked a total of 16 brush fires in the Rim country.

Six of those blazes burned in the Mazatzal Wilderness area.

"We've been busy," said Pat Velasco, fire management officer for the Payson Ranger District.

The largest of the weekend fires torched roughly 70 acres of prime forest near Apache Lake east of Saguaro Lake.

In the Rim country, the largest fire, Velasco said, was the Maverick fire, which burned 8 acres in the Mazatzals. The other fires, he said, burned less than an acre each.

"We had one other fire that was a campfire along Highway 260," he said. "A couple had broken down along the side of the road and built a little fire. It wasn't a brush fire or anything, but it did have the potential to get out."

With Payson crews otherwise engaged, the ranger district called in resources from the Prescott Hot Shots to fight the Mazatzal fires.

"We had a crew of 20 from Prescott arrive June 18," Velasco said. "We also used personnel from area fire departments as well."

One Payson crew spent the night fighting a small fire on top of the Mogollon Rim.

Monday afternoon, Payson crews were again heading south, this time for a brush fire sparked by a burning camp trailer.

"The camp trailer started burning, and driver pulled off the road at the bottom of Slate Creek," said Dan Eckstein, assistant fire management officer for the Payson Ranger District. "It burned about 8 to 10 acres before they finally got it under control (Monday) night." Crews from the Payson and Tonto Basin fire departments joined Payson Hot Shots to battle that blaze.

With all of the fires either out or under control, Velasco said Monday afternoon that most of the available crews are hitting the sack to rest up for the next blaze.

"Rain has been real spotty," he said. "For now, the fire restrictions remain in effect for all of the national forest areas. We'll need some significant rain before that will change.

"The wilderness really got hit hard by lightning this last storm. In a way, we're kind of lucky. The Mazatzals are really dry, so very few people are going in there. But people really need to be careful."

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