Cave Creek Complex Fire Reaches 173,000 Acres

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At 173,000 acres, the Cave Creek Complex fire has grown to the second largest in Arizona history, but Pine and Strawberry residents got some good news about the threat it poses to their homes.

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Dan Oltrogge, Type 1 Incident Management Team commander, told a packed house last night that he was optimistic firefighters could keep the Cave Creek Complex fire from reaching Pine and Strawberry.

At an overflow meeting last night at the Pine Cultural Hall, fire officials told about 2,000 locals that they were fairly confident the fire would not force an evacuation of the two communities.

The announcement was met with applause and a palpable sense of relief in the packed meeting hall.

During the day, a pall of smoke engulfed Pine and Strawberry as teams of firefighters waited to be called into action. Even the yellow banner hanging across Highway 87 announcing the Fourth of July arts and crafts festival was shrouded in smoke, a symbol of the uncertainty residents still face.

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Residents listened intently as Oltrogge related the fire's steady progress. At 173,000 acres it has moved past the Willow Fire to become the second largest in the history of Arizona.

Meanwhile, some 12 miles to the southwest, crews hoped to keep the fire from crossing the East Verde River. The fire has not advanced on its northern front for two days, but the ponderosa pines in the area around Pine and Strawberry -- some of the largest area ponderosa stands in the world -- have been hit hard by beetle kill in a long-running drought, and are vulnerable to a fast-running fire.

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 on to the official Cave Creek Complex Fire website at: fireteam-sw.com/whitney/cavecreek.

For information on forest closures, look on the web at http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/fire under "Restrictions."

Statistics:

Definition of "complex" fire: A "complex" fire is two or more fires in the same area assigned to a single commander or unified command.

Total Acres: 172,788
Start Date: June 21, 2005; 4:45 p.m.
Cause: Lightning
Location: 5 miles NE of Carefree, AZ and 12 miles SW of Pine/Strawberry
Containment: South: 40 percent
North: 0 percent
Expected Full Containment: Unknown
Threatened Resources: Pine, Strawberry, Camp Verde; Pine Mountain and Cedar Bench Wilderness; critical high voltage power lines; cultural and historic resources.
Fuels: Oak & Chaparral brush & grass
Terrain: Step topography, extremely flashy fuels, & poor access.
Cost: $3,443,052
Total Personnel: 835
Crews: 15 Type 1; 8 Type 2 crews
Equipment: 26 engines; 7 dozers
Air Support: Helicopters: 4 Type 3; 4 Type 2 ; 4 Type 1
Evacuations & Closures: There are no evacuations in place on private lands near the fire.

The entire Cave Creek Ranger District is closed except for Bartlett Lake area and the Mazatzal Wilderness area. The Agua Fria National Monument is also closed for public safety.

Damage: 11 residences, 3 out buildings in Camp Creek

Summary: Fire crews are improving fire lines on the west side of the New River Mountains. The fire is slowly backing down toward the fire lines and is clearly visible from the I-17 corridor in many locations.

Fire is still holding west of the Verde River.

Poor access with steep terrain along extremely brushy and grassy fuels contribute to fire control problems. The fire has entered the New River Mountains and is burning toward the Verde River. Burnout on the east side of the Black Canyon City will impact Interstate 17 and unavoidably disrupt travel.

An area closure south of State Route 260 and west of State Route 87 on the Coconino National Forest has closed access to Fossil Creek, Irving and Childs as a precautionary measure. The entire Cave Creek Ranger District is closed to public access with the exception of Bartlett Lake and the Mazatzal Wilderness Area. For further information on forest closures, look on the web at http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/fire under "Restrictions."

Statistics and maps provided by Tonto National Forest.

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