The lack of moisture in monsoon storms is wreaking havoc on the Kinishba Fire, which has now consumed 20,128 acres on the Fort Apache Reservation.
High winds have caused the fire to change directions from north to south, to east and west. Residents of Pinetop, Lakeside, McNary and Hondah are still threatened, as the fire rages just two miles from the evacuation trigger point for those communities, according to a report issued Friday morning by the Southwest Incident Management Team.
But there is good news, officials say:
- Containment has risen to 20 percent and firefighters say they have a dozer line around the entire fire.
- The evacuation order was lifted at 8 a.m. today (Friday) allowing all 5,000 residents evacuated from Whiteriver and nearby communities to return home. Many had been staying in six emergency shelters set up in nearby schools and churches.
- So far, no structures have burned and structure protection is in place for 700 threatened residences.
Fire crews will focus on the north side of the fire Friday, reinforcing the dozer line and conducting backfire operations. The humidity and dew point are expected to be up this afternoon with a 40 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms in the area.
A total of 35 crews made up of 1,143 firefighters are on the scene employing 45 engines and five helicopters. An additional type 1 incident management team has arrived from Alaska and is staging in Show Low.
The lightning-caused fire, burning southeast of last year's Rodeo-Chediski Fire, is named for a prominent prehistoric ruin near where it started at 1 p.m. Sunday. The estimated cost of fighting the blaze so far is $1.9 million.
Rim country overview
Smoke from the Kinishba Fire reduced visibility in the Rim country Thursday, making it more difficult for fire lookouts to detect fires, according to Gary Roberts, Payson Ranger District fire prevention officer.
A total of five new fires erupted on the district Friday, Roberts said.
"They were all lightning-caused and we caught all of them very small," he said. "The largest one got to maybe two-tenths acres."
Lightning caused yet another fire Wednesday on Strawberry Mountain that reached one-quarter acre before it was extinguished.
The Payson Ranger District has now gone four weeks without a human-caused fire.
"We want to urge people to continue to be responsible," Roberts said.
Hurricane Claudette, currently tracking along the New Mexico-Mexico border, could inject some additional moisture into a southerly flow across the western states, Roberts said. Meanwhile, the monsoon season has yet to officially begin.
"Our records show the latest the monsoon has started is July 18," Roberts said. "But what we've found is that when they start mid-month, we get what they call frog chokers -- it really pours on us. I hope this follows the pattern."
Some of the Payson Hotshots who just returned from the Aspen Fire told Roberts they were surprised that more people hadn't taken the necessary steps to make their properties defensible since the last fire season.
"A year ago in that same area, they fought the Bullock Fire and were able to save those homes," Roberts said. "This time, the Aspen came in and many residents hadn't done anything to protect their homes. We need to stress to people not to become complacent. People always think it happens to other people."