Crews Let Fire In Mazatzals Burn

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Forest Service officials are calling the summer of 2000 the worst forest fire season in two decades.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center's Web site, more than 12,000 firefighters are currently battling 65 major blazes and a host of smaller fires that have burned nearly 827,000 acres in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Utah and Colorado.

Forest Service officials are blaming drought conditions throughout the West for most of the blazes.

Included in the Forest Service's list of small fires is the 30-acre North Fire now burning south of Payson on the North peak of the Mazatzal Mountains.

Because the lightning-caused fire first spotted the afternoon of Aug. 4 is burning in a remote location, and there is a lack of personnel and resources to fight it, U.S. Forest Service fire experts have decided to monitor the fire and let it burn.

"(The fire's) behavior is minimal and unless it really starts cranking, it will be monitored," Tonto National Forest Public Information Officer Emily Garber said.

Monday morning, Payson Ranger District Fire Manager Officer Bob Ortlund flew over the blaze as part of the monitoring effort.

According to Garber, Ortlund concurred with the decision to let the fire burn since it currently doesn't threaten human life and property. Ortlund wasn't available for comment Monday.

Officials said the fire could burn for days or weeks before it burns itself out.

Weak monsoon storms accompanied by lightning have stated an average of five wildfires a day during the past few weeks in the Payson Ranger District.

Except for the North Fire and the recently contained 190-acre Mogollon Fire, most have been small and quickly suppressed.

The lack of forest firefighters and the high number of lightning-caused fires has prompted U.S. officials to turn to Mexico for help.

On Saturday, a Type 2 crew of Mexican nationals from San Vincent, Coahuila, Mexico arrived to help fight the Peak Fire burning south of Globe.

The arrival of Los Diablos Crew, Garber said, will enable the Peak Fire Incident Command Post managers to free Hot Shot crews for deployment elsewhere, once the Peak Fire winds down.

The U.S. has agreements with several other nations to help one another when firefighting resources wear thin.

The last time the United States called for international firefighting assistance was 1996, Garber said.

Officials at the Peak Command Post were ready to declare the fire contained by Monday evening. However, those plans went awry early in the day when rain and high humidity stalled burnout operations designed to halt the progress of the blaze.

The command post had adopted a suppression strategy centered around burnout operations between fire control lines and the fire itself. With the rain, those burnouts simply didn't burn.

According to Garber, a final containment date will depend upon the weather. If the area dries out, crews will resume burnout activities and containment may be attained by midweek. If rain continues, however, firefighters will work the fire's fringes trying to suppress the blaze, and containment could be delayed.

The Peak Fire's threat to several FAA antennas and towers on the peaks has been significantly reduced, Garber said. The transmitters are used throughout the Southwest in voice communications between pilots and air traffic controllers.

Last week, when the fire had charred more than 1,300 acres, the FAA and other antenna site users reported power outages and were forced to switch to generators and batteries for backup power. The outage lasted about five hours.

Over the weekend, APS and FAA crews were able to reach the transmitters to perform inspections and maintenance work.

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