If Rim Country residents near Pine and Payson spot heavy smoke rising from the forest Oct. 17 and 18, odds are the Forest Service is just working once more on clearing a buffer around forest communities.
The Payson Ranger District is planning controlled burns on nearly 1,000 acres to get rid of brush and slash piles in three spots, two near Pine and one in Oak Spring Canyon.
The burns over the upcoming weekend represent just the latest step in efforts to thin growth on thousands of acres surrounding Rim Communities, including Payson, Pine, Strawberry, Star Valley, Knoll’s Ranch, Christopher Creek and others. Crews have been struggling to create a buffer zone for the past several years, after major fires underscored the danger of a catastrophic wildfire in the dangerously overgrown forest.
The burns are slated for Friday and Saturday, but winds or other weather shifts could force a cancellation. Fire managers also measure the water content of the wood and trees in the area before giving the go-ahead on a controlled burn.
One fire will involve a broadcast burn on half of a 444-acre chunk of land just southwest of Pine, to clear brush and logs. The fires should produce heavy smoke for brief periods and a drift of smoke down Pine Creek in the evening.
A second broadcast fire on 366 acres that will include some small timber piles left from a previous thinning efforts could take place just southwest of the Pine Trailhead. The fire should produce moderate amounts of smoke and night time smoke drifting down Pine Creek.
Finally, crews will set fires from the air to burn about 300 acres on the south and west side of a hill north of Oak Spring Canyon. The fire should briefly produce heavy smoke, with smoke continuing to drift town Oak Spring Canyon and Pine Creek in the evening. The Forest Service uses igniters dropped from the air in areas too rugged and inaccessible to safely deploy ground crews.
The three fires represent just the latest skirmish in a battle to protect Rim Communities. All told, the Tonto Ranger District hopes to use controlled burns to clear years of accumulated brush and deadwood from some 4,000 acres in the Pine and Strawberry areas.
In addition, the Forest Service will burn off about 1,500 acres below Milk Ranch Point in the area of Camp Geronimo, Rim Trail and Verde Glen.
Other areas scheduled for burns in the upcoming months include an area south and west of Payson, Round Valley, Ox Bow Estates and Payson Pines. A series of burns in that area should cover 2,000 acres and about 300 piles of debris left from earlier hand-thinning efforts.