The Willow Fire was not very active today (Sunday), allowing fire crews time to widen the containment line protecting Payson and prompting Operations Sections Chief Buck Wickham to all but declare the community of Payson safe during the 8 p.m. briefing Sunday.
"Everything held, and we got in and deepened the burnout," Wickham said. "Probably tomorrow it will be safe and secure and mopped up. Payson has pretty much dodged the bullet on this one."
The containment 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.
Efforts tomorrow and in succeeding days will focus on trying to stop the fire's progress to the south, laying a line of retardant and setting fire behind it by dropping ignition "ping pong balls" from helicopters.
"If we can do that, we won't have to close Highway 87 for a prolonged length of time," Wickham said.
Highway 87 is currently scheduled to be closed for burnout operations Tuesday July 6, possibly through Sunday, July 11. (See separate story Willow Fire to close State Highway 87.)
Smoke will continue to be a problem in the Payson area through at least tomorrow, but a shift in wind direction could provide some relief beginning Tuesday.
Second Fire Burns Bear Flat Home
A new fire that started this afternoon in the Bear Flat residential area 13 miles east of Payson off Highway 260 destroyed one residence and partially burned another.
The Flat Fire reached 1.5 acres before it was contained by firefighters. The fire is under investigation, but it is believed to be human-caused.
Watch this website and the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team website.
Current Willow Fire Status:
Acres Involved: 80,400