Lightning, Vehicle Start 15 Weekend Wildfires

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Weekend monsoon storm lightning strikes and a disabled vehicle in tow had Forest Service fire crews scrambling to extinguish blazes.

"We had 15 fires," said Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts. "That's not the most we've had, but it is a very busy weekend."

Most of the fires were lightning-caused, but six spot fires on both sides of the Beeline Highway north of Payson were ignited by sparks flying from a dragging broken axle on a Jeep being towed north.

Fortunately, Roberts was also traveling north on the Beeline and was trailing the disabled vehicle. He called in fire crews.

"We also had a lot of help putting fires out from motorists who stopped to help," he said.

One of the lightning-caused blazes, the Tonto Fire, continues to burn in steep Mogollon Rim canyons north of the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.

The rugged, almost inaccessible terrain makes it virtually impossible for land crews to reach the fire.

"It's burned about two or three acres in impossible terrain," Roberts said. There is a lot of fuel out there and it is putting out a lot of smoke, but we have it pretty well shut off up on top (of the Rim)."

The fire is being fought by Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATS) and one medium-sized helicopter.

The largest of the weekend fires, one that grew to about four acres and was also started by lightning, began July 15 north of the fish hatchery.

Named the Grey Fire, it was contained and controlled by land crews, SEATS and helicopters.

All other weekend fires were quickly extinguished and held to less than a quarter acre.

Roberts said the successful firefighting efforts were the result of interagency cooperation between the Forest Service and town and rural fire departments.

Roberts also expects the increase in lightning-caused fires to continue due to monsoon rains predicted to continue through the week.

-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail mfoster@payson.com.

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