Fires Cause Smoke In Christopher Creek, Tonto Basin


The smoke from two fires burning north and east of Payson has caused smoky conditions for residents of Christopher Creek and Tonto Basin.

Smoke from the Wilkins Fire near Heber and the Haigler Fire near Turkey Peak, 25 to 30 miles east of town, has been drawn together by weather conditions.

The fire converged on the Christopher Creek and Tonto Basin areas, leaving residents wondering where it was coming from.

Gary Roberts, Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer, said lightning sparked the Haigler Fire and it has burnt approximately 450 acres, as of the end of shift Wednesday evening.

Roberts could not give a date the fire started.

It was what they call a lighting hold-over fire that had smoldered for a short time before erupting into a full fire, he said.

The fire is in the Pleasant Valley Ranger District north of Haigler Creek and south of Turkey Peak.

Roberts said the fire threatens no structures.

He is hopeful it can be completely contained by the end of the week.

He said no evacuations are needed and barring any unforeseen high winds or problems, he doesn't think any will be necessary before it can be contained.

"They have a good handle on it right now, there were several crews there yesterday (Tuesday Oct. 22) as well as a helicopter doing bucket work, two bulldozers and six engines working the fire," Roberts said.

He said a lot of the 450 acres consumed by fire is due to burnout operations designed to rob the fire of fuel and keep it from spreading.

Roberts said crews have been able to create a 300 to 400 yard firebreak and bulldozers also have a good line drawn between the fire and fuel sources near the top of Turkey Peak.

Thursday morning Roberts said crews had established lines all around the fire and it was 40 percent contained.

He said residents in Christopher Creek and Tonto Basin had seen significant smoke Thursday and Friday from a two-day burnout operation along Chamberlain Trail.

He said residents could expect to have heavy to mild smoky conditions through the weekend.

The Wilkins Fire, designated as a wildfire 70 miles northeast of Payson, has burnt 2,045 acres and has been burning for a month, Bob Dyson, Public Affairs officer for Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest said.

He said the Wilkins Fire was also caused by lightning on Sept.12, and is currently confined to an area west of Leonard Canyon.

"No structures have been lost and none are currently in any danger," Dyson said.

He said crews are using a confinement strategy to fight the fire.

A confinement strategy does exactly what the name implies, it confines the fire within established boundaries and crews then rob it of fuel sources and simply allow it to burn itself out.

In the case of the of the Wilkins Fire, Forest Road 155 in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is the westernmost boundary, and Forest Road 62 next to Willow Creek is the easternmost boundary.

Dyson said the fire is consuming primarily ponderosa pine and pinon juniper.

"This is primarily a ground fire and it has actually done a lot of good things by burning off dead leaves and needles that could have ended up being fuel for future fires," Dyson said. "It has burned some seedlings, but established trees haven't been harmed beyond their ability to recover."

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