Fire Forces Closure Of Roads In Tonto Forest

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The growing Wilkins Fire 70 miles north of Payson has forced forest officials to close some roads in Tonto National Forest.

Bob Dyson, Public Affairs Officer for Tonto National Forest said the Wilkins Fire grew from 2,045 acres on Oct. 26, to 4,000 on Oct. 29.

Dyson said above-average temperatures during the week allowed the fire to grow to its current acreage.

He said the fire is still within containment lines.

Lightning sparked the Wilkins Fire on Sept. 12, Dyson said.

Fire managers have established an 11,000-acre containment area between Forest Road 115 on the west, Forest Roads 62 and 62A on the east, Forest Road 225 on the south end and the Black Mesa District boundary on the north end, Dyson said.

Roads within the containment area have been closed to all traffic, other than firefighters, until further notice, he said.

Black Mesa District Ranger Kate Klein said motorists driving through Tonto National Forest should use caution on Forest Roads 115 and 62, because smoky conditions could decrease visibility.

"This last weekend, it burned into Wilkins Canyon and made some uphill runs, so it put a lot of black smoke into the air,"

"We are monitoring this fire, improving the containment lines by burning them out, and watching for spot fires constantly," Klein said.

Dyson added that the Wilkins Fire would remain active, as long as above average temperatures continue.

He said the fire is expected to burn for a few more weeks as it gets closer to containment lines and begins to burns itself out.

Residents can expect to see smoke from the fire as long as it continues to burn, but prevailing winds are expected to keep it away from Forest Lakes, Heber, and Overgaard, Dyson said.

"The Wilkins Fire is burning in ponderosa pine, pinon pine, and juniper vegetation and has mostly been burning woody debris on the ground," Klein said.

The Haigler Fire south of Highway 260, 30 miles east of Payson, has also produced a lot of smoke in the last week.

The fire was reported to forest officials on Oct. 22 and as of Sunday, was contained to 662 acres.

Residents of Forest Lakes, Tonto Basin, Christopher Creek and even as far away as Heber-Overgaard, Payson and Winslow, experienced smoky conditions from the fires, Dyson said.

The plume from the Haigler Fire could be seen Friday afternoon from milepost marker 237 on Highway 87, five miles south of Payson.

Dyson said burnout operations last Friday conducted to secure control lines on the fire allowed smoke to climb the Mogollon Rim and settle into various Rim Country communities.

The fire was contained on Sunday, Oct. 28, but wildland fire crews were still in the process of mopping up the interior, as of Tuesday.

On Oct. 26, Gary Roberts, Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer, said on Oct. 26, the Haigler Fire was a lightning hold-over, but Dyson said its cause is still under investigation.

Both of the fires have been designated wildfires by the forest service.

For more information, call "593" toll-free or (928)-333-3412 to hear a recorded message about the Wilkins Fire or any of the prescribed fires occurring on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

To report a wildfire, call (928)-333-4417.

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