Smoke from controlled burns on both sides of Payson will extend the misery of people with breathing problems well into next week.
Burns intended to clear out dangerous buildup of wood, brush and small trees sent smoke drifting off the Rim all week. Those efforts in the Coconino Forest will continue next week, augmented by a 600-acre burn just south of Payson in the Tonto National Forest next week.
Most of the smoke drifting into town to afflict allergy sufferers this week was generated by a 375-acre “broadcast” fire up on the Rim on Dome Ridge — part of a much larger effort to thin thousands of overgrown acres on the edge of the Clear Creek Wilderness area.
In the past week, Coconino has burned about 900 acres on the Rim, adding to 2,500 acres burned earlier in the fall, when low temperatures, high humidity and still-moist still-moist brush and trees make it possible to keep the creeping ground fires under control. The goal is to avert a racing crown fire that could start in areas thick with trees and brush during the tinder dry months of May, June and July when early monsoon storms often bring more lightning than rain.
Up on the Rim, the Forest Service relies mostly on broadcast burns, with little effort to thin and pile the brush and trees ahead of time. Crews clear fire lines around the area targeted for a burn and stand by to keep the fire contained in the damp wood, when weather forecasters predict clear, cool, humid days.
Closer to Payson and other Rim communities, the Tonto National Forest has hand-thinned thousands of acres and piled up the wood and brush to burn when weather conditions allow.
Next week the Payson Ranger District hopes to burn about 650 acres of brush south of Payson and west of Highway 87 in the general area of Orchard Tank and Peach Orchard Spring. The burning operations will take place as weather allows all next week.
The Forest Service predicted that the burns will produce heavy smoke, which could drift through Payson depending on wind patterns.
The burning operations should peak on Wednesday and dwindle to ash by Friday. The Forest Service has thinned and burned off thousands of acres on the outskirts of all the major Rim communities in the past two years, reacting to studies that showed the whole region vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires.
The threat arises from the dangerously overgrown condition of the forest after a century of clear-cutting, heavy grazing and fire suppression.