Fires Scorch Arizona Forests

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With a partial forest closure now in effect, firefighters continue to mop up three human-caused wildland fires in northern Arizona including an 840-acre blaze northeast of Pine and Strawberry near Blue Ridge on the Mogollon Rim.

Springer Fire

The Springer Fire, which was initially reported at 12:46 p.m. Tuesday, is now fully contained.

"With two helicopters dropping water on the fire and 150 firefighters working on the ground, good progress was made in containing the fire," according to a news release issued Thursday by the Coconino National Forest.

A fire line has been constructed almost entirely around the fire, which is located 45 miles west of Winslow. Highway 87, which was closed in the vicinity of the fire, has been reopened, but Forest Road 211 remains closed.

Homes in a rural subdivision in the area were saved in part because of prior selective thinning and prescribed burning.

Indian Fire

The Payson and Diamond Star fire departments are contributing manpower and equipment to the effort to control the Indian Fire five miles south of Prescott.

As of Friday morning, the fire was estimated to be 45 percent contained.

Payson Fire Chief John Ross, who was on the scene Thursday, said the fire is "pretty much contained."

Windy conditions caused that fire, first reported at 3 p.m. Wednesday, to grow to 1,000 acres by Thursday morning. So far, five homes have been destroyed in an upscale subdivision and 1,000 people from three subdivisions have been evacuated.

Payson and Diamond Star each sent a brush truck and two firefighters to help with the effort. The fire, already the most destructive in Arizona since the Dude Fire in 1990, threatened heavily populated neighborhoods. Firefighters used backburns where possible, but windy conditions made the fire extremely tricky.

"It's a nasty one, but I think they're in pretty good shape now," said Ross. "The fire is in ponderosa pine with an under brush of scrub oak, not unlike the vegetation found in and around Payson. We would have sent more help if we could, but we can't leave this area too thin."

Equipment and manpower were diverted from the Springer and Hart fires to help battle the Prescott blaze, and Gov. Jane Hull signed an emergency declaration Wednesday, freeing up state funds to help fight the fire.

Prescott Mayor Rowle Simmons issued a proclamation prohibiting residents from using water outdoors.

Hart Fire

The Hart fire, located west of Hart Prairie Road west of the San Francisco Peaks, is now contained.

Coconino National Forest personnel credit aggressive firefighting combined with effective air support as key factors in holding the blaze to 60 acres. The fire is believed to have been caused by an escaped campfire.

Camp Colton, an environmental education camp one mile north of the fire, was evacuated as a precautionary measure.

At its peak, some 70 firefighters were on the scene, along with a helicopter and two air tankers.

Forest closure

Due to extreme fire danger caused by drought conditions and above-normal temperatures, two areas of the Tonto National Forest representing about five percent of the forest are closed as of 6 a.m. Thursday.

In announcing the closure, Forest Supervisor Karl Siderits characterized is as a"necessary public safety precaution."

One area that will be closed is from the Tonto Natural Bridge north, including Pine and Strawberry, and north of the control road where it joins Highway 260. The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is not included in the closure.

The second area is the Pinal Mountains just south of Globe.

The closures prohibit entry except to homeowners and by permit.

While the rest of the forest remains open, restrictions are still in effect prohibiting campfires, charcoal fires, smoking materials, chain saws, welding equipment, ATVs and other machinery (without properly installed spark arresters), and firearms (unless engaged in legal hunting activities).

For more information on fire restrictions and closures, call toll-free 1-877-864-6985 or visit the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations website (www.fs.fed.us/r3/fire) or the statewide interagency fire prevention site (www.az.fireinfo.com).

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