When 12-year-old Tricia Ricke and her friends saw the fire, they knew they had to get help fast.
Ricke and six friends were walking to the bowling alley Sunday afternoon when they saw three boys running from a growing blaze near a business complex on north Beeline Highway. The lot was thick with trees and weeds.
"We saw the boys running away (north) toward Payson Marketplace," Ricke said. "They were running fast."
The seven friends immediately started alerting nearby businesses, flagging down cars, and even tried to put out the flames themselves.
"We started to stomp on the fire and one of my friends burned his shirt using it to hit the flames," Ricke said. "I ran over and told the man from the fire T-shirt stand and he brought over a fire extinguisher, but the fire was spreading too fast."
The children were able to flag down several cars with people who were willing to help.
"One man started throwing ice from his truck onto the flames," Ricke said.
More people stopped. One used a cell phone to call 911 at 6:15 p.m.
When Payson firefighters arrived they found citizens with fire extinguishers and shovels fighting the fire that was already singeing the side of the building that houses H&R Block and the former Gollipops location.
Firefighters put out the blaze and covered the area with a fire retardant foam.
"This is a good example of why people need to take care of the weeds in their lots and remove the fuel," Payson Battalion Chief Tom Fife said. "This fire could have taken off and gone right up the trees. That's what makes fires uncontrollable -- when they get airborne and create spot fires."
The identity of the three boys allegedly running from the fire is still unknown.
"We saw that they had built a bundle of sticks in the shape of a tepee," Adam Alexander, 15, said. "They looked like they were 14 or 15 years old."
"Talking to the neighbors, they say this is a fairly popular place where kids hang out and smoke," Fife said. "It's fortunate that people were around and (the fire) was reported so quickly."
Fife said people became more aware of fire danger while the Willow Fire was sending dark plumes of smoke over the town.
"Our biggest fear is that people will say, ‘now we're safe' and get back to the norm. That's scary," he said. "We need to drill it into people's heads to stay focused -- not just during fire season, but all the time."