Thanks to a fast response by several agencies, a forest fire four miles north of Payson along Highway 87 was snuffed out last night after reaching about two acres in size.
"It was a rapid response deal," Payson Ranger District spokesperson Gloria Alliger said. "As soon as it was called in, they were on it."
The Payson Fire Department, Forest Service firefighters and Tonto Helitack, the rapid-response helicopter unit stationed at the airport, all responded to the fire which was reported at about 5:30 p.m. Monday by passing motorists. The fire was contained by 10 p.m., but firefighters returned at 6 a.m. this morning for mop-up work.
"They'll be checking it for the next several days," Payson Fire Department Captain Rob Beery said.
While the cause of the blaze is still under investigation, Beery said its location on the east side of the highway makes a cigarette tossed from a car a strong possibility.
Payson Roundup reporter Max Foster, one of the first on the scene, said the fire was burning toward the highway and to the northeast. Foster said firefighters moved quickly to get a line around it.
According to Beery, the fire had the potential to be much worse than it was.
"If we hadn't caught it, it would have gone all the way to the top of the ridge and would have been 100 acres or so," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot of wind, but it was burning uphill."
While no structures were threatened, the community of East Verde Park was only a half-mile from the fire. Only one lane of Highway 87 remained open while firefighters fought the blaze.
Beery credited the rapid response mutual aid agreement between the Forest Service and the town for keeping the fire small.
"We've teamed up with the Forest Service this year," Beery said. "Any of their fires within five miles of town automatically get a first alarm response from us, and the same way with us. Whenever we have a first alarm, they send units to our fire. We're working hand in hand with them and it's working really good."
Beery said airpower was also a key factor in controlling the fire.
"All the resources really helped," he said. "They have two helicopters up at the airport and the SEAT -- the little single engine air tanker."
Tonto Helitack, an eight-person initial attack team, is one of 96 such units stationed throughout the United States.