Willow Fire Update: Officials Optimistic

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While smoke from the Willow Fire filled the air in thick columns Wednesday residents were concerned that the wildfire was growing, but officials say it remained at 32,000 acres throughout the day.

The heavy smoke was the result of fire crews burning pockets, or islands, within the fire zone that did not burn previously.

According to Buck Wickham, Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team spokesperson, the fire is now 5 percent contained.

While officials can't rule out an evacuation, they are being optimistic. "The chance of Payson being evacuated is slim," Wickham said Wednesday evening, "but I can't say the same thing for Pine and Strawberry."

The barrier firefighters hope to maintain between the blaze and the two mountain communities north of Payson is the East Verde River.

"The fire has jumped the East Verde River several times, but firefighters have been able to turn it back," Wickham said. "But if the fire crosses the East Verde River, it's a whole new ball game."

A small fire in Rye

Firefighters engaged a small fire created by a bulldozer working on a fire line west of Rye Wednesday afternoon. Two C-130 air tankers dropped retardant to contain the blaze. The community of Rye was not threatened officials said.

Wickham cited the bulldozer fire as just one more sign of the dangerous fire conditions in the area.

"It's so dry here -- I've been doing this for 35 years and I've never seen a fire started by a bulldozer, and we've had several."

Resources currently dedicated to fighting the Willow Fire:

791 firefighters

4 single-engine air tankers

5 Helicopters

28 structure protection engines

5 water tenders

6 dozers

The total cost of the fire to date is $1,005,000

The Public Information Center is located at the Payson High School District Office and will be staffed daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The public information telephone number is (928) 468-1230.

The public is being asked to please use caution when driving along Highway 87 due to animals being misplaced from the recent fire activity. E-mail is available for questions or comments at: fireteam@wmonline.com.

If you have any questions concerning the Willow Fire, contact the Public Information Center at (928) 468-1230. The Information Center is staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Go to Southwest Area Incident Management Team Website

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