Cave Creek Complex Fire Blazes North

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With the Zane Fire 100 percent contained, fire officials expressed new concern about the Cave Creek Complex Fire, which is moving north unchecked.

The fire has turned away from densely populated areas toward remote portions of the Tonto National Forest.

While residents of Cave Creek, Carefree and north Scottsdale breathed a collective sigh of relief, firefighters continue their struggle against the fire's persistent northern push.

Late Saturday afternoon, the fire made rapid northern and eastern runs toward Bloody Basin and the Verde River.

Strong winds from the southwest, combined with low humidity, and tinder dry brush and grasses, created towering plumes of smoke.

"It just keeps working its way up the Verde River," Vinnie Picard, deputy public affairs officer for the Tonto National Forest, said Monday. "It's at 111,000 acres now and if it goes past the Pine Mountain Wilderness area, it's not looking good."

Last year, firefighters used the East Verde River to stop the Willow Fire, but this year, fire management teams said the line might not hold.

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A second Type I Incident Management Team joined the battle at 6 a.m. today as the Cave Creek Complex passed 111,000 acres and headed north. A total of 803 personnel and all available resources, including helitack teams like this one, are engaged in suppression efforts.

"There's really nothing to stop the Cave Creek fire from getting north of the East Verde River. (The fire) is up past Bloody Basin Road, and they expect it to get into the Pine Mountain (Wilderness area) today."

Picard said Rim country residents can expect to see a lot of smoke.

"We want to make sure folks up there know what the situation is and have the latest information," he said. "Right now it's the ecological damage that's heartbreaking; it's not the threat to the communities.

And residents also need to be prepared in case the fire jumps the East Verde River.

"We live in Arizona. You never know what the wind is going to do, and that may change. I don't want to sing a sunny song when that may not be the case."

A second Type 1 Incident Management Team led by Dan Oltrogge has been called in to support Jeff Whitney's team in the suppression effort. Fire officials have established a new containment plan -- to keep the fire east of the summit of the New River Mountain Range, south of the Prescott National Forest, west of the Verde River, and at its present location to the south.

For more information on the Cave Creek Complex Fire and other fires burning on the Tonto National Forest, check the Forest Service website at www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto.

You can also log onto the official Cave Creek Complex Fire website at: fireteam-sw.com/whitney/cavecreek.

Zane Fire

Meanwhile, fire crews are mopping up the remnants of the Zane Fire, which was started by lightning Thursday evening near the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.

The fire, about 13 miles northeast of Payson, escaped the grasp of firefighters Thursday night when 30 to 40 mile-per-hour winds reversed direction.

It reached 136 acres in size while threatening nearby homes and the hatchery before it was fully contained Saturday.

In all, more than 220 firefighters were involved in battling the blaze. Crews will now focus on cleaning up and patrolling for smoldering hot spots said Gary Roberts, Payson Ranger District fire prevention officer.

Bob Lineback's Type 2 Incident Management Team is expected to turn the fire over to a Type 3 team today.

Three Fire

The established lines on the north flank of the Three Fire Complex held Sunday in spite of strong winds and high temperatures, according to Picard.

Approximately 19,370 acres, the Three Fire is located near the 3-Bar Wildlife area 6.5 miles north of Roosevelt Dam. Firefighters continued to build control lines and mop up along that flank Monday to protect communities to the north. Helicopters are being used extensively to extinguish interior flare-ups, and will continue today.

Due to successful operations, no additional road closures are planned on Highway 188. Cholla Campground, serving as the fire base camp, remains closed to the public.

Barring any unforeseen events, however, crews working on the Three Fire Complex will begin to demobilize tomorrow.

This would re-open Cholla Campground in time for the upcoming Independence Day weekend.

All other recreation facilities on Roosevelt Lake and Apache Lake Recreation Areas have remained open during the fire and will continue to be open to the public.

The Four Fire, also part of the Three Fire Complex, showed significant fire activity Sunday, largely due to strong winds.

The fire made a run toward Big Saddle just west of Four Peaks.

"Wind events like we've experienced this weekend are a huge concern for firefighters," said Stewart Turner, fire behavior analyst for the Arizona Central West Zone Incident Management Team managing the Three Fire Complex. "Strong winds not only push flames that increase the fire size, but they can also make fire behavior very erratic and unpredictable. Once it gets up and goes, it's going to go fast."

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