Rim country residents can expect to see a lot of smoke in the coming months as the Payson Ranger District burns 30,000 piles of forest debris created when fuel breaks were put in to protect communities.
In addition, another 5,000 acres in the Rim country will be treated by prescribed burning over the next 12 months as part of a 25,000-acre project announced this week by the Tonto National Forest.
"'Tis the season for us to begin doing prescribed burns -- broadcast burns -- throughout the district, and burning of piles out there," Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts said.
The three areas targeted for treatment in the Payson vicinity include 2,875 acres just north of Payson Municipal Airport and two 1,000-acre sites near Verde Glen and Little Green Valley.
"Basically we're just concentrating on reducing some of the wildfire threat from that wildland urban interface," Vincent Picard, Tonto public information officer, said. "We're not just doing prescribed burning; we have a lot of burn piles out there from lines we've put in in the last year or two, so we're also going to be concentrating on getting those burned out as well."
Until they are burned, the piles constitute a fire hazard, Ed Armenta, Payson Ranger District head ranger, said.
"The fuel break is only partially complete if we don't burn those 30,000 piles, and the need to do so came to light during the Willow Fire when there was a potential threat to Pine and Strawberry," Armenta said. "We're looking at that fuel break thinking it was going to save the day, but we've got to finish that off as well as other fuel breaks throughout the district. We've started burning them as we speak."
The pressing need to provide wildfire protection to Rim country communities has caused other projects to be put on hold for the time being.
All of the prescribed burns in the Rim country are part of the ongoing Payson Wildland Urban Interface Project, the largest wildland/urban interface wildfire mitigation project in the state of Arizona.
A daily list and map showing prescribed fires approved by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality can be found on the Forest Service's Southwest Coordination Center website at www.fs.fed.us/r3/fire/swapredictive/swaintel/daily/swa-rx-report_az.htm).
Weather permitting, broadcast burns are scheduled to begin today (Tuesday) in the following areas:
- Paiute Draw south of Diamond Point Summer Homes
- Ellison Creek
- Control Road west of Whispering Pines.