Governor Tours 69,500-Acre Willow Fire


Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano flew over the Willow Fire for a firsthand look Saturday morning.


Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano came to Payson Saturday to see the Willow Fire firsthand.

After meeting with firefighting and forest personnel, Napolitano expressed confidence that the suppression effort is in capable hands, and offered this assessment: "I don't think there are any firm time limits or acreage limits in terms of how long this fire will burn or how far it will go," she said. "Some of the flames down there are pretty spectacular, and of course we're getting into the afternoon, the winds are picking up, and it's obviously going to be a very hot day. I think they're anticipating a very active afternoon with this fire."

Payson was inundated with smoke and ash Friday afternoon, but firefighters were generally pleased with their progress battling the fire southwest of town.

While the fire increased in size to 69,500 acres, containment grew from 5 percent to 8 percent, and the communities of Payson, Pine and Strawberry are in no imminent danger.

"I know there's a lot of people concerned about the increase in smoke today, and it is laying over town, but all this smoke really hasn't hurt us too much," Operations Sections Chief Buck Wickham said at the 8 p.m. media briefing on Friday. "The fire has increased in size and we've lost more of the wilderness, but as far as it impacting a community, it doesn't constitute a significant threat at this time. So it's a big show, but not much threat to Payson or any of the other communities."

Much of the smoke Friday afternoon came from the southeast corner of the fire.

"The fire was getting set up in there to make a big run out of the Y Bar

Basin ... so we got in there with helicopters and ignited those ridges to try and minimize the heat of the fire and it did back down off the ridge," Wickham said.

Meanwhile, the burnout continued on the northeast side of the fire on Friday, although progress was limited by dry conditions.

"The fuel moisture is 1, and yesterday at the Payson Ranger Station, the relative humidity was 1," Wickham said. "The probability of a hot ember landing across the line and igniting and starting a spot fire was 100 percent."

While there is some concern the southeastern portion of the fire could outflank the southern end of the fire line and turn north toward Payson, Wickham minimized that danger.

"It's not out of the question, but it's not a probable thing," he said.

At the Saturday morning media briefing, Southwest Area Type 1 Incident

Management Team commander Jeff Whitney said the fire was "cooperating" so far today.

"It's doing what we anticipated that it would do," Whitney said. "Based on the active fire we had last night and the fairly dramatic movement of the fire to the south, we were a little concerned, so we were able to do a little custom burning with our ping pong ball machine, and we were able to hold the fire pretty well up high on the ridge line."

Whitney also said "everything looks very good along the East Verde" and that "the burnout is close to complete coming down the east flank into Rye."

There are currently 951 firefighters and support personnel working the fire, which has so far cost $3,199,000.

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