Successful burnout operations on the north and east sides of the Willow Fire Wednesday night reduced the risk to Payson, Pine and Strawberry, but the blaze is still growing, fire officials said Thursday.
The three communities will not be declared safe before next week at the earliest, Operations Section Chief Roy Hall said Thursday.
"The way we've progressed with succesful burnout, we're looking at through the July 4 weekend," Hall said. "But really, the day you see us go away is the day you can say it's over."
Today, firefighters hope to continue burnout operations, strengthen the fireline, and continue work on the Pine/Strawberry fuel break.
The lightning-caused Willow Fire, which began Thursday, June 24, 17 miles from Payson is now within three miles of the town.
Despite heavy columns of smoke from internal burning Wednesday, the fire was held at 32,000 acres through Wednesday evening.
By Thursday afternoon the fire expanded to 40,800 acres with 5 percent containment.
See Friday's printed edition of the Payson Roundup for complete details and photos.