Billows of smoke rising from the now-1,500-acre Rim Fire have alarmed residents of small developments down slope, but fire crews have the blaze 55 percent contained and far from any structures.
“We’ve got it in the cage we want to keep it in,” said Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts. He noted, however, that forecasts call for 40 mph winds today.
Some 138 firefighters have used five engines, two helicopters and a water bomber to keep the fire from escaping from the steep, brush canyon. Crews have set two fires — one on the canyon’s eastern ridge and one in the fire’s northeast corner — to keep the fire contained.
Roberts predicted the fire will continue to produce heavy smoke for at least two more days and ultimately expand to about 2,200 acres, before burning itself out.
Started by lightning on July 20, the fire was less than 100 acres in size until last weekend, when it exploded. Rising temperatures and the topography played a key role in the acceleration, with the fire reaching 1,500 acres on Thursday.
“It’s still a good distance from any structures,” said Roberts. “We just want to make sure it doesn’t roll over the top.”
That’s why crews have used “burnout” fires to keep the fire from escaping into the thick forests beyond. Although smoke of the spreading fire has alarmed residents of communities like Whispering Pines, Verde Glen, Rim Trail and Washington Park, the eventually 2,000-acre burn area should actually provide a buffer zone between those communities and future fires, said Roberts. Still, crews can’t afford to take anything for granted, he said.
“Fire is an unpredictable environment and there’s not a 100 percent guarantee on anything. Currently, it remains in its box and currently it’s not a threat. But you could have all kinds of extreme weather conditions that could come in and change that.”
The “red flag” forecast today calls for hot, dry conditions and gusty, 40 mph winds.