Despite another smoky day Saturday, there is good news for Payson residents. According to fire officials, the burnout on the east side of the Willow Fire has been completed and Payson will be safe "in a couple days."
"Not to worry," Operations Sections Chief Buck Wickham said at the 8 p.m. media briefing on Saturday. "With our burnout efforts and (the fact that) we've held the line, now it's just cooling off. Give it a couple days for us to mop it up and Payson will be in good shape."
The completed line runs from the Doll Baby Ranch east and then turns south for several miles to the Barnhardt Trailhead.
Pine and Strawberry are at slightly more risk, but those communities are also getting safer with each passing day.
"We still have a lot of fire out here in a lot of rough country, but (Pine and Strawberry are) looking better every day," Wickham said. "But there's still a little bit more of a risk in that area than there is in Payson."
Despite the good news, Rim country residents can expect more smoke and ash for several weeks.
"This fire is going to continue to burn and a lot of the ash and smoke will impact Payson," Wickham said.
Earlier Saturday, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano flew over the Willow Fire for a firsthand look.
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."
The lightning-caused fire, which began June 24, stands at 69,500 acres and is now 10 percent contained. There are currently 934 firefighters and support personnel working the fire, which has so far cost $3,861,000.
See the Tuesday printed edition of the Payson Roundup for complete details and photos.