Aided by the lingering drought and driven by hot, windy conditions, the Picture Fire burning south of Payson has doubled in size to 2,000 acres in the past 24 hours.
The fire, 35 miles south of Payson and 10 miles northeast of Tonto Basin, is only 10 percent contained and fire authorities have no estimated time for total containment. Winds of 15-25 mph out of the southwest are pushing the fire to the northeast and causing spotting up to a quarter-mile away, making control efforts difficult.
According to fire behavior analyst Pat Valesco, both live and dead fuels in the fire area are extremely dry. The fire is burning primarily in chaparral, juniper and ponderosa pine.
The fire began Wednesday near Picture Mountain. It is believed to be human-caused, possibly starting from a campfire.
"The word I've gotten is that they don't consider it threatening to the community of Pleasant Valley right now," Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts said.
The philosophy employed this year by the Forest Service calls for management rather than suppression of such fires.
"Generally if it's in an area where it doesn't threaten structures or endanger life, we will try to manage the fire so it will actually make the ecosystem healthier," Roberts said. "If lives or property are threatened, we're going to fight it very aggressively."
Fire suppression is under the direction of Incident Commander John Philbin and the Central West Zone Incident Management Team. Currently there are also nine Type 1 Interagency Hotshot Crews and seven Type 2 Suppression Crews on the fire. Numerous engines, water tenders, helicopters, air tankers and dozers are supplementing these crews, bringing the total number of firefighters and support crews to more than 400, according to Rick Hartigan, fire information officer on the Picture Fire.
No structures have been lost, and efforts are being made to limit damage to Mexican spotted owl habitat. No injuries have been reported so far.
The Cholla Campground and boat ramp at Roosevelt Lake have been closed to the public while the area is being used for the fire camp. The area surrounding the fire, including Forest Road 609, is closed to public access.
Other recent Rim country fires
According to Roberts, several other fires in the area have been snuffed out by firefighters. They include:
- A human-caused fire in Box Canyon near Christopher Creek Tuesday, June 10. The fire reached .5 acres in size, and its cause is currently under investigation.
- A fire in Gordon Canyon on Sunday, June 15, reached .1 acres. It was caused by power lines.
- Another fire June 15 near Camp Tontozona north of Kohl's Ranch spread quickly in love grass and reached .75 acres.
- Monday, June 16, a fire across from Bear Flats Road was contained at less than .1 acres. It was also human-caused and is under investigation.
The total number of wildfires this season stands at 27, compared to 35 fires at this point a year ago.
"The 2002 fire season was the second worst in 50 years," Roberts said. "Four states -- Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, had the biggest fires in their histories last summer.
Gov. Janet Napolitano declared a state of emergency Thursday after the Aspen Fire destroyed about 250 homes in and around Summerhaven, a community of about 500 homes and cabins on Mount Lemmon near Tucson.
The fire, believed to be human-caused, has consumed 4,000 acres so far, as tinder-dry conditions and winds gusting to 40 mph have kept firefighters at bay. More homes could be lost in the community, which has 100 full-time residents.
Last summer firefighters were able to save Summerhaven when it was threatened by the 35,000-acre Bullock Fire.
A total of eight fires are burning in the state.
New Rim country restrictions
Campfire and smoking restrictions have been expanded to include all Forest Service lands managed by the Payson Ranger District.
The new restrictions, which took effect at 8 a.m. this (Friday) morning, ban campfires, charcoal grills and stove fires, except in established Forest Service fee camp and picnic grounds where grills are provided. Liquid or gas stoves, lanterns and heaters that meet safety specifications are allowed.
Smoking is allowed within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area with a three-foot radius and free of all flammable material down to the mineral soil.