Lightning Strikes Way More Than Twice

Dry thunderheads cause rash of fires, but mostly spare Rim Country


Fires to the left of us.

Fires to the right.

Here we are -- happy in the middle of the Payson Ranger District, with some scary lightning strikes, extreme fire danger -- but fewer than half as many human caused fires as last year and the monsoons riding to the rescue.

The onslaught of pre-monsoon clouds with lots of lightning but only a little rain have caused havoc in California, where more than 1,500 fires have strained resources, but so far the hotshot team and four engines poised to protect Rim Country communities have had a quiet fire season, said Don Nunley, acting Payson Ranger District fire management officer.

Restrictions on campfires throughout the Tonto National Forest, vigorous public education and a little luck have sharply reduced human caused fires so far this season and the Rim Country has been spared the sort of mega-lightning storm that nailed California.

A weekend lightning strike started a fire near Promontory Butte on the Rim, but a lookout at the Diamond Point fire tower spotted the first thread of smoke and a crew hiked in from a nearby road and stomped it out before it had grown beyond half an acre, said Nunley.

The neighboring Pleasant Valley Ranger District also had four lightning-caused fires over the weekend, which grew to about 10 acres. Fortunately, the storm that delivered all the lightning also brought enough moisture to give fire crews a chance to contain the blaze.

Nunley said the weather service predicts that the relative dry afternoon staging of thunderheads along the Rim will give way in the next week or two to a full-fledged monsoon pattern, with rain in the clouds to make up for the stabs of lightning that have fire crews groaning and watching the sky.

Neighboring areas have had a rougher time of it.

The Payson Ranger District did send a helicopter and several engines racing down to the Valley over the weekend, where they worked to contain the 6,000-acre Ethan fire burning in the thickets of tamarisk in the bottomlands of the Gila River on the Pima Indian Reservation.

Moreover, small fires continue to burn on either side of the district, on the Coconino National Forest to the west and the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest to the east.

Ongoing fires in elsewhere in the state include:

Hot Air Fire, Apache Sitgreaves, Clifton District: 8,300 acres. About 134 firefighters are working to contain the fire about 39 miles southeast of Alpine. The fire slowed overnight, but crews worry about predicted afternoon winds.

Bear Mountain Fire: 1,500 acres. The Forest Service isn't actively fighting the fire in the Blue Ridge Primitive Area, but has closed various roads and trails in the neighborhood of the fire burning slowly through pine needles and downed logs.

Walla Valley Fire: a 425-acre fire on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the Point Sublime Area has drawn the efforts of eight engines, four helicopters, five water tenders, three single engine air tankers and 136 firefighter trying to contain the advance of the fire on a two-mile front.

Crystal Peak Fire: A 1,058-acre fire continues to burn on the San Carlos Indian Reservation.

Black Mesa Fire: A 1,744-acre fire continues to burin on the San Carlos Indian Reservation.

Big Spring Fire: A 5,580-acre fire continues to burn on the Cibola National Forest.

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