Diamond Fire Erupts Near Sunflower

Nearby rancher's pond gives firefighters saving edge

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Firefighters successfully protected the community of Sunflower from the Diamond Fire by constructing a 30-foot wide fire line Sunday afternoon.

While no evacuations were ordered, the fire did come close to some homes.

"They were 200 to 300 yards away -- pretty close," Dan Eckstein, assistant fire management officer for the Payson Ranger District, said Monday.

Eckstein, who coordinated an air attack that featured three helicopters and four single-engine air tankers, said air power was the key to controlling the blaze.

"We have the heavy helicopter with the snorkel that carries 1,500 gallons, and he was dipping right out of Jeff Whitney's pond," Eckstein said. "That's the big ranch on the west side of the highway, so it was like a two-minute turnaround between the drops. I'm sure he dropped well over 100,000 gallons yesterday."

By Monday afternoon, the fire reached 1,150 acres and was considered 50 percent contained. Full containment is expected on Wednesday.

"We're still working the helicopters, mostly on the northeast corner of the fire," Eckstein said.

According to Dave Killebrew, incident information officer for the Tonto National Forest, "The perimeter is looking pretty good, with very little smoke. There was a big run up Diamond Mountain around 11 this morning; it was terrain-driven, however, not wind-driven."

Fire managers continue to pay close attention to the wildfire's movement and plan to go on the direct attack on the west flank.

The blaze erupted around 1:15 p.m., Sunday on the west side of Highway 87, about 30 miles south of Payson. "It started a little bit to the southwest of that gravel pit, the road that runs parallel to Highway 87 about a quarter mile to the west," Eckstein said.

Burning in juniper and grass, the fire was initially fought by four Hotshot firefighter crews and eight wildland fire engines. More help was expected.

"We had one heavy helicopter come in, and two more were scheduled to be here later today or (Tuesday) morning," Payson Municipal Airport Manger Ted Anderson said Monday.

"In addition to that we're setting up two different bases, one is a heli-attack base and then we'll set up a single engine air tanker base and the equipment and aircraft will start moving in (Tuesday)."

While the fire is still under investigation, Forest Service law enforcement officers have already uncovered what might be evidence.

"I think they found some brass, so it could have been from a shell or a steel-jacketed bullet," Eckstein said. "I don't think it was a campfire."

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