Payson Airport Key To Fighting Humboldt Fire

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The Willow Fire is fast becoming just another summer memory, but the planes and crews of firefighters are still at work.

"Reseeding operations are over, but the fires keep burning," said Andy Kulpa of Ballinger, Texas, the loader/mixer for the single engine air tanker (SEAT) stationed at the Payson Airport.

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Andy Kulpa of Ballinger, Texas, inspects his single-engine air tanker at the Payson airport before taking off for another run to the Humboldt-Lookout Fire burning north of Cave Creek in the Tonto National Forest.

Kulpa's plane, a Air Tractor 802, and two helicopters based in Payson are currently helping fight the 650-acre Humboldt-Lookout Fire on Humboldt Mountain in the Tonto National Forest. The Humboldt Fire is north of Cave Creek and about 40 miles southwest of Payson. The plane is exactly the same kind used for reseeding, but is built to spray retardant.

"The Humboldt Fire is a good case for keeping an initial attack base with a helicopter and a SEAT here in Payson through to the end of fire season," Ted Anderson, airport manager, said. "For the approximately 40 days they have been here, they have responded to more than 30 initial attacks on fires in the Payson and surrounding area. That's 30 fires that were stopped, excluding the Willow Fire."

The Humboldt-Lookout Fire is threatening a Federal Aviation Administration site and a fire lookout tower, according to Tonto National Forest spokesman Dave Killebrew.

"The threat is significantly less than it was yesterday," Killebrew said Thursday.

The fire -- originally two separate fires, the Humboldt and Lookout -- was ignited by dry lightning from a fast-moving thunderstorm around 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 11.

Crews did emergency burnout operations around the structures and the personnel staffing both were evacuated around 5 p.m. Wednesday, Killebrew said.

The FAA site is a dome-shaped antenna structure with a building, he said. Normally it is not staffed, but a maintenance man was there when the fire started.

In addition to the plane and helicopters from Payson, there is a heavy air tanker from Prescott and five structure engines on the fire. Five hot shot crews are working the battle, Killebrew said.

In addition to the FAA site and lookout, there is a mine nearby, with several residences, he said. While it is currently not at risk, it is being monitored.

The Humboldt fire began Wednesday night. Officials said Thursday that they believe the fire is under control.

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