100 Firefighters Battling Pine Wildfire

A slurry bomber drops its load of retardant on the Dripping 
Springs Fire Monday evening about a mile from Pine.

A slurry bomber drops its load of retardant on the Dripping Springs Fire Monday evening about a mile from Pine. |

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Jodee Smith/Roundup

A firefighting helicopter flies through the thick smoke Monday produced by the Dripping Springs Fire. More than 100 people, two air tankers and two helicopters were working the fire.

Even with gusty winds throughout Tuesday, firefighters were able to keep the Pine fire under control and within a contained circle. The fire has burned around 100 acres but crews managed to keep it from spreading to homes by maintaining a perimeter.

By Tuesday evening only a small amount of smoke was seen hanging over the rim and a few flaming logs.

Residents of the tiny mountain hamlet of Pine almost had their worst fears realized Monday when the Dripping Springs wildfire burned to within 400 yards of an exclusive subdivision. No evacuations took place.

Although the blaze has not been contained, a combination of cool temperatures, low winds and the suppression efforts of a Type 2 firefighting crew appears to have saved Pine from turning into the raging inferno many predicted would someday happen.

The concern of firefighters today is that winds could kick up, causing “a potential for roll out,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Karen Smith.

A high wind advisory has been issued for noon to 7 p.m. today, and officials are expecting a red flag warning this afternoon.

After spending most of Monday building a fire line around the blaze, which was first reported at 5:30 a.m. that morning, fire crews retreated yesterday evening from the scene, leaving two engine crews to man the blaze.

After a brief meeting this morning at the LDS church in Pine, the crews returned to the fire to continue suppression efforts.

The firefighters included Hot Shots from six agencies, including those from Payson, water tenders, three helicopters and two fixed-wing slurry bombers deployed from Fort Huachuca.

The Pine-Strawberry Fire Department also responded to the blaze.

The fire was difficult to fight, mostly because it was located in steep, rocky terrain that could only be reached on foot.

Also, firefighters reported the area contained many standing dead trees that had been infested several years ago by bark beetles that killed hundreds of thousands of ponderosa pine trees along the Mogollon Rim.

During the height of the blaze, the heavy underbrush was putting up a good deal of thick, white smoke which hampered aircraft operations, said firefighters at the scene.

The slurry bombers were led over the blaze by a smaller two-engine aircraft that apparently plotted drop locations on the northwest edge of the fire where it peaked at the top of the Rim.

Fortunately, the fire — which had consumed about 75 acres by Tuesday morning — burned mostly north and away from the Pine.

It did reach the edge of the Solitude Trails subdivision, which firefighters used as a makeshift base for walking to the fire site.

As the fire raged close to high-dollar homes in the area, many residents sat on their porches keeping track of the blaze through binoculars and spotting scopes.

When asked on Monday afternoon if rumors swirling around town that the blaze was caused by a man passing through the area, Pine-Strawberry Fire Department spokesperson Lisa Sieracki and Tonto National Forest public information officer Paige Rockett would only say it “was under investigation.”

On Tuesday morning, Smith confirmed the buzz that the fire was caused by a man traveling through the area on horseback and with his dog was indeed true.

“He is being cooperative,” Smith said.

Reportedly, the fire began when a campfire the man started to keep warm got away and ignited underbrush. Officials have no estimates when the fire will be fully contained.

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