Next Few Days Will Determine Fate Of Rim Country Communities

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The question on everybody's mind is whether the Rim country communities of Payson, Pine and Strawberry are in danger from the Willow Fire. Here's an edited version of how Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team Leader Jeff Whitney answered that question at a press briefing Monday evening:

"We had a very productive meeting today with all of the local jurisdictions. We're looking out in advance 72 hours plus, and the next few days are going to be very telling.

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Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team Leader Jeff Whitney.

"At this point there is no imminent threat to any of these communities. However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at the map and say, ‘OK, the fire is here, and it's less than 10 miles from the town of Payson. We know that it traveled four miles in one afternoon.' Anybody can do the math.

"It just depends on whether or not those critical weather features set up, whether the fire gets seated in the right location."

Whitney was asked if a trigger point for evacuation has been identified.

"We've got some things that we've set in place that will probably put us into an alert mode, but those are days away. At this point everyone legitimately should think in terms of my personal space and the things that I hold dear, whether it's my pets or my valuable documents or old family photos. Those sorts of things should be in a secure place where you know you could retrieve them if you had to leave in a hurry.

"But these communities have been well engaged for several years doing an awful lot of good planning, and we're in the process right now of helping them get those plans together.

"We have no idea at this point which direction the fire might run. It could go west. It could go north. It could come east. Any one of those scenarios is going to direct a different kind of response.

"At this point we're sort of doing a futuring exercise. We're sort of doing an ‘if, then what' exercise, and we're working on those with the local agencies. But there is not cause for concern at this point.

"We're doing everything we can to suppress it, but 140,000 acres is a pretty big piece of real estate. We're trying to pick our fight, and when we need to we'll take our fight to the enemy. When the fire comes at us and we need to stand, we will."

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