Highway Update: Officials Caution Road Could Close At Any Time On Short Notice

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Fire officials caution that Highway 87 could be closed at any time on short notice.

Fire officials now believe they have a 50-50 chance of keeping the southeast flank of the Willow Fire in check and Highway 87 open.

"Our infrared imagery from the flight (Monday) night about 10 p.m. that the portion (of the fire) on the ridge above Deer Creek was holidng right in place, and that is very encouraging," Operations Section Chief Roy Hall said at the Tuesday morning media briefing.

Plans to deploy hotshot crews in the area were abandoned, however.

"We changed our mind after a recon (flight)," Hall said. "The fire is seated in a canyon in a bowl in there that concerns us, so we're going to delay that for awhile and continue to work with aircraft."

Fire officials caution that Highway 87 could be closed at any time on short notice.

"As long as that fire continues to behave on the southeast corner, we will keep Highway 87 open," Law Enforcement Liaison Officer James Clawson said. "But that can change any moment if that fire decides to come off of there."

While fire suppression is going well, smoke will continue to be an issue for local residents.

"We're going to have smoke coming out of this thing until we get some significant moisture," Hall said. "You don't get this much real estate on fire without smoke affecting very directly the adjacent communities.

"A lot of people come here for clean air and sunshine. Well this is one of those times the air is not going to be so clean."

The Willow Fire started June 24 from a lightning strike in the Mazatzal Wilderness area of the Tonto National Forest southwest of Payson. As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, the fire had consumed 89,200 acres and was 17 percent contained. The cost to fight the fire is now at $5,320,000.

Watch payson.com for regular updates.

The Type 1 Southwest Fire Management Team has set up a website at www.fireteam-sw.com/whitney

See related story: Beeline closure averted

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