Coon Fire Burns 6,300 Acres


The latest numbers on the Coon Creek Fire prove its strength.

As of Tuesday morning, the Coon Creek fire that continues to burn 40 miles south of Payson has consumed more than 6,300 acres --and is still spreading.

Only six days into fire suppression, there are more than 500 people fighting the fire, providing support for the firefighters and handing out information to the media. For their efforts, they've got what is suspected of being a human-caused fire 30-percent contained at press time.

"We are making progress with the west, north and south flanks," Emily Garber, a spokesman from the Forest Service said.

Containment happens after hotshot crews have cut a line in the dirt during the daylight hours. At night they burn the remaining fuel from the line to the fire. With nothing left at that line for the fire to burn, it slowly dies out.

Eleven Hot Shot crews of 20 firefighters each have been trying to stop the fire's north and west movement. A few homes are threatened and there is much more rugged terrain for the fire to consume in that direction, Larry Humphrey incident commander said Saturday.

On the east, the ruggedness of the Sierra Ancha wilderness hinders the firefighters' abilities to attack the fire head on. Their goal is to stop the fire at Cherry Creek Road on the east side. To get to that road, the fire will have to move downhill, a situation that typically slows its momentum.

"I expect to see people still fighting this fire 30 days from now," Humphrey said.

Six Hot Shot firefighters have been injured during the fire suppression.

Sunday, two firefighters were hit with water from one of the helicopters that drops 2,000 gallons of water, Tonto National Forest's Dave Killebrew said. One firefighter suffered a bruised elbow and was sent home and the second had bruised ribs and is back in camp.

Other injuries include a broken finger, heat exhaustion, a bee sting and a case of high blood pressure.

The fire is now an interagency event, pooling resources from various departments, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, State of Arizona, and Arizona Game and Fish.

Most crews, from firefighters to cooks, will work two to three weeks, before they're relieved by fresh crews. Of the 11 crews currently on the fire, eight are from Arizona and three are from New Mexico. Pleasant Valley and Globe Hot Shots were the first firefighters to get to the fire and have been on night duty since the beginning.

Each night after their briefing, the two crews work the freshly cut line, burning out the remaining fuels during nighttime temperatures that get as low as 30 degrees. Working in their own backyard gives these crews one real advantage. They can go home to their own beds during the day to sleep.

The other crews, including the Payson Hot Shots, carry home on their backs and bunk down at Reynolds Creek Campground. The campground is about a four-mile drive to the fire. Then crews hike 20 minutes to two hours to get to the section of fire they are assigned to.

While the operation is being run out of Grapevine Campground at Roosevelt Lake, the lake and most of its campgrounds remain open. As of press time, the cost of fighting the fire had reached $1.9 million.

Officials are interested in talking to anyone who may have been in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness area between Easter Sunday, April 23 and April 26. Call the Tonto National Forest office at (602) 225-5200.

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