Rim Blaze Caught Early; Kinishba 90 Percent Contained

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One of 21 lightning fires ignited in the Payson Ranger District Tuesday almost got away from firefighters.

Crews spent all Wednesday night battling the Rim Fire, located on the side of the Mogollon Rim in the Ellison Creek area. The fire, which was visible from Payson, reached about six acres in rugged terrain before it was contained.

"Our guys have been on it all night, so a Hot Shot crew will come in and relieve them today (Thursday) and do mopping up operations," Gary Roberts, district fire prevention officer, said.

The other 20 fires started Tuesday, located primarily between Bonita Creek and the Tonto Fish Hatchery, were all caught at between .1 and .25 acres, a feat that Roberts praised.

"When you're talking 21 fires across the district in a day, that's a lot of scrambling," he said. "Our district firefighters, which are firefighters from severity crews off other forests, and cooperating agencies have been doing a superlative job."

The single day record for the district is 26 fires. An additional four fires were started by lightning strikes Wednesday.

The district's four-week stretch without a human-caused fire came to an end Sunday.

"Up by the fish hatchery in a closure area, we had a fire caused by a firecracker and we caught that at a tenth of an acre," Roberts said. "They were in an area they shouldn't have been, with something they shouldn't have had."

At this time a year ago, the district had experienced 65 wildfires. This year, there have only been 39. Considering the extended heat wave this summer, Roberts is pleasantly surprised.

"This is actually the hottest July in Arizona since we began keeping records over 100 years ago," he said. "It's just amazing we have done so well on this district thus far."

Kinishba Fire surrounded

Although the Kinishba Fire swelled to 24,000 acres, thunderstorms slowed its growth to the point where nearly half of the firefighters working the blaze have been demobilized.

Only 623 of 1,143 firefighters remain, and several more crews will be sent home or to other fires soon. While the lightning-caused blaze two miles west of Whiteriver on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation is only 90 percent contained, officials are confident they have gained the upper hand.

A burn-out operation in the northeast portion of the fire was completed Sunday. Monday, more burn-outs were conducted near Big Canyon, mop-up work continued, and patrols of the fire line were conducted.

The fire, which started July 13, crept as close as a quarter of a mile from homes in the Whiteriver area, causing the evacuation of 5,000 residents to six emergency shelters set up at schools and churches in the area. All evacuees were allowed to return to their homes Friday.

Cost of fighting the fire so far is $5.3 million.

Coconino restrictions lifted

Thanks to monsoon rains, all camping, campfire, smoking, chain saw and off-road driving restrictions in the Coconino National Forest have been lifted.

In the past week, more than 60 percent of the forest has received more than half an inch of rain. Some places have received two to three inches.

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