Fire Season Starts Early

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Firefighters from the Payson Ranger District and the Payson Fire Department responded to a brush fire at the Houston Mesa Campground Wednesday morning, March 6.

Dan Eckstein, assistant fire management officer for the Payson Ranger District, said a forest service engine crew was dispatched to the scene when the call of heavy smoke in the area came in at 7:30 a.m.

The fire was quickly contained to less than 1/2 acre, Eckstein said.

"We could not determine what started the fire, although we know it was human caused," he said.

The area of the campground where the fire ignited was gated and closed off to the public.

The lack of moisture over the winter has forest officials worried.

"This is the ninth fire in the Payson district since Jan. 1," Eckstein said. "The two largest were three acres each in Strawberry Canyon and east of Tonto Village."

The fire danger, Eckstein said, has varied over the past few weeks from very high to extreme, depending on the humidity.

And the dry conditions have forced the forest service to beef up its manpower earlier than normal.

Eckstein said the majority of the firefighters, including the Hot Shots, will report to work March 24, one month sooner than planned.

"The Diamond Point lookout tower will also be staffed by the (March) 24th," Eckstein said. "We are not the only one (ranger district); the other districts on the forest are also bringing people in early."

Manzanita fire

The Payson Fire Department responded to a report of a fire in the wooded area east of the town hall complex in the 300 block of N. Manzanita which was reported at 4:09 p.m.

Firefighters arrived and relieved Sgt. Todd Bramlet and Officer John Heflin of the Payson Police Department who were shoveling as fast as they could to contain the fire.

The officers' quick response, along with the firefighters, kept the slow-burning fire from spreading into the dry brush and up the pine trees.

The source of the fire could not be determined, but as with the campground fire, it is believed to be man-caused.

Jack Babb, Payson fire marshal, said the fire hazard is extreme right now and the department is asking for the public's help in reporting even the smallest of fires.

"Instead of trying to put a fire out, call us first," Babb said. "It's better to send too much help and not need it than to send it late and not have enough."

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