A Wednesday fire, in which smoke could be seen across the entire Rim Country, was a reminder of how fast a wildfire can begin.
A tanker truck carrying red dye diesel, commonly used for industrial jobs, overturned on Highway 260 near Kohl's Ranch Wednesday morning, igniting a plume of flames, with smoke that could be seen from Strawberry.
The fire closed Highway 260 for two hours. Traffic was diverted south to Highway 188 to Highway 60 through Globe.
Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said the tanker fire should be some sort of a wake-up call to residents to get them prepared just in case.
Gartner said residents need to know what immediate possessions they would want to take if an evacuation were ordered, as well as where those possessions are located. And when people are told to leave, there should be no hesitation, he said.
Diamond Star Fire Chief Gary Hatch called Wednesday's tanker fire a "big one."
"It was very serious when you have eight years of drought and 7,500 gallons of fuel," he said. Hatch said the fire became more serious because of its proximity to the forest.
He said his department knew it was prepared -- his crew has been out on forest fires before.
Hatch said everything came together and all of the equipment at the site worked perfectly.
The tanker overturned about 7:45 a.m. Fire crews responded immediately and contained the fire at a half acre. The highway reopened shortly after 10 a.m.
At the height of the fire, the heat from the blaze could be felt from more than 100 yards away. The popping sounds that were coming from the blaze were probably from the tires of the vehicle, said Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Whetten.
The driver, Clarence Clifton Wade, 44, of Phoenix, walked away from the accident with no apparent injuries.
The tanker fire, which resulted in mounds of smoke, began spreading to the brush on the south side of the highway.
Whetten said Wade reported that he had a front suspension failure that resulted in his tanker rolling.
Whetten said it was fortunate that the type of fuel being burned was diesel.
"This is diesel, and No. 2 diesel is not combustible so we are fortunate," he said.
In an attempt to prevent the fire from spreading to the forest, the U.S. Forest Service created a firebreak.
Whetten said it was also fortunate that the location of the fire -- on the highway -- created a large buffer from the brush.
Firefighters from the departments of Christopher-Kohl's, Payson, Tonto Village and Diamond Star, as well as the U.S Forest Service, joined forces to fight the tanker fire.
Hatch said the cause of the fire is still unknown.
"We don't know if he blew a tire, but we know he hit the guard rail," he said, adding that friction from the tanker to the pavement could have possibly caused the fire.
He said 30 firefighters from four departments as well as 20 employees from the Forest Service were involved in containing the fire.
There were four big-engine fire trucks and five water tender trucks that helped fight the fire.
-- To reach Michael Maresh call 474-5251 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.