A crew of 20 Forest Service firefighters were battling a fire below the Mogollon Rim Tuesday that had flared from one acre to 50 in a matter of hours the day before.
The blaze, dubbed the December Fire, was spotted at 2:30 p.m. Monday, when it had burned about an acre, Payson District Ranger Ed Armenta said. By the time crews arrived on the scene to fight it, gusty winds had fanned it to 50 acres.
"The fire is burning between the Highline Trail at Bray Creek, and the Rim," Armenta said. "Our objective is to keep it within the perimeter of the old Bray Fire, which destroyed about 600 acres above and below the Rim in 1990."
Armenta said he thinks crews will be able to contain the December Fire at 300 acres because snow banks are preventing the flames from jumping on top of the Rim. Below the Rim, he said, the fire is following the old fire lines from the Bray fire.
Although most of the Forest Service's Hot Shot firefighters have been released for the season, the ranger said there are plenty of experienced firefighters working the blaze.
"We have a combination of permanent Hot Shot leaders, along with some other highly skilled firefighters up there working it," he said. "Our main goal now is to make sure it doesn't spread farther south."
Crews are expected to contain the fire by Wednesday, Armenta said, and put it out within a couple of days.
Forest fires are typically named for the areas in which they burn. "We're calling this the December Fire, though, because all of the other names for that area had been used up this summer with all of the lightning fires we had."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, he said.