1,100 Acres And Growing

Promontory Fire threatens 300 homes in Christopher Creek area

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Plumes of white smoke curled over the top of the Mogollon Rim, like a menacing hand, and approached several forest communities as the Promontory Fire spread rapidly Monday.

Since the fire started at 4 p.m. Sunday, it has grown to 1,100 acres.

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The 900-acre Promontory Fire started Sunday, hours after another nearby wildfire, the Ponderosa Fire, was contained.

Until Monday afternoon, the Promontory Fire near Christopher Creek was growing rapidly, but did not threaten any structures. But Monday, the fire entered the Christopher Creek drainage and now firefighters are working to protect 300 residences, 10 commercial buildings and 50 outbuildings.

Fighting this fire is extremely difficult, because of the steep slopes and dense tree cover.

Firefighters plan to hold the fire on top of the Rim by digging lines with bulldozers and by hand on the east side of the Christopher Creek drainage and on the west side of the fire by Promontory Point.

The fire was human-caused, according to Forest Service Public Information Officer Eric Neitzel.

The fire is burning on the Mogollon Rim, about three miles from Bear Canyon Lake and 1.5 miles from Christopher Creek.

Currently, more than 400 personnel are battling the blaze, including three wildland crews, the Payson Hotshots, and helicopters and air tankers.

All roads east of Fish Hatchery Road and north of Highway 260 around Christopher Creek are closed until further notice, while crews battle the blaze, said Gary Roberts, District Fire Prevention Officer.

For more information about road closures, call the Gila County Sheriff's Office at (928) 425-4449 or visit http://www. az511.com/hcrsweb/hcrsweb.jsp.

Roberts said the fire wouldn't subside anytime soon, because the steep, rugged terrain, on which it is burning, makes it difficult to fight.

At press time, the fire had not been contained.

An incident management team arrived Monday evening to manage the firefighting efforts.

Neitzel said more crews would be coming to aid the efforts of the existing crews.

He said the communities of Christopher Creek and Hunter Creek were the utmost priority for firefighters.

Provided cooperation from 10 to 15 mph winds, Neitzel said, the fire would continue to burn in a northeasterly direction, away from the communities.

"It's touch and go," he said. "Once the winds pick up, it's going to get dicey again.

"If the winds calm down, we'll be in good shape."

While there is no confirmation about the cause of the fire, Neitzel said that it is likely a result of human carelessness.

"It was human-caused," he said. "It wasn't lightning."

Campgrounds around Promontory Lookout, Bear Canyon Lake and Woods Canyon Lake have been closed, until further notice.

Rod Britain, a bartender at the Creekside Steakhouse and Tavern in Christopher Creek, said he is confident that the fire danger will be averted.

"This is not our first rodeo," he said.

The restaurant has been busier than normal, due to fire personnel and curiosity, he said.

"We'll actually probably have to increase our hours to take care of the support teams," he said. "And there are going to be a lot of Looky Loos here."

Other residents of the area aren't as relaxed about the blaze in their back yard.

Pam Davis, who resides in Elk Haven Trailer Park for six months each year, admitted she was worried about her home's proximity to the fire.

"It's scary," she said. "Our window faces that direction (of the fire)."

Ponderosa Fire

The Promontory Fire came about just hours after wildland firefighters were able to contain another blaze, the Ponderosa Fire, which started around noon Saturday near the Ponderosa Campground along Highway 260, east of Payson.

The Ponderosa Fire burned about 10 acres along the highway, and no structures were damaged. Roberts said hot exhaust backfire from a vehicle was the cause of the blaze.

One Hotshot squad, three fire crews including the Payson Fire Department, one helicopter, two air tankers and one plane battled the blaze over the weekend.

The Ponderosa Fire was contained Sunday.

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