Plumes of smoke continued to rise over the Rim Country throughout the weekend as fire crews worked to control 14 fires in the Coconino National Forest, including the Rim Fire, which gained another 1,000 acres with extreme winds Saturday.
Even though the Rim Fire grew in size, from 1,500 acres Thursday to 2,500 Monday, fire crews say they have the blaze 85 percent contained and it remains far from any structures.
Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts said fire crews acted exceptionally Saturday when the fire grew from one major front to three after 35 MPH winds gushed through the area.
“It went from a one-headed snake to a three,” he said, “but people did not panic. They were very methodical and got it corralled.”
At one point, the fire blew over two roads, including Forest Road 300, consuming another 300 acres.
Even with the fire spreading rapidly, Roberts said crews hustled to contain it while two helicopter pilots managed to continue delivering water right on target despite gusts.
“Every once in a while you observe something that goes so smoothly, and on Saturday it was such a well oiled operation,” he said. “They could have panicked but they didn’t, and the outcome was really very satisfying.”
Some 140 firefighters will continue to patrol and monitor the lines to keep the fire from breaking out of the steep, rugged canyon it started in on July 20. Lightning was the cause of the fire.
It may be several more days before the fire extinguishes, but Roberts predicted it could be snuffed out sooner.
“It won’t surprise me at all if they fully contain it by the end of shift today,” he said.
The Forest Service says they are managing the fire to benefit the fire-dependent ecosystem. Ultimately, the fire will create a buffer zone between communities such as Whispering Pines, Rim Trail and Verde Glen and future fires.
While the Rim Fire was lightning sparked, fire specialists have also responded to several new fires in the past week, which were human caused. Visitors started 12 out of the 14 fires started since Aug. 3, the Forest Service reports.
The Reservoir Fire, located near the Blue Ridge Reservoir on the Mogollon Rim is approximately 100 acres and 10 percent contained.
Crews worked diligently Sunday to establish a containment line on the western flank of the fire to prevent further movement toward nearby private property.
Firefighters worked on eastern containment lines Monday.
Residents should expect heavy smoke and ash in that area for the next few days. Forest Roads 751 and 751B have been closed.
Crews are continuing to monitor the Raptor Fire, which is being managed for resource benefit.
The Raptor Fire is located approximately eight miles southwest of Mormon Lake and while it remains at 1,200 acres, smoke could be noticeable as unburned pockets in the interior are consumed.
On Friday, four fires broke out around the Rim Country including near several Rim lakes.
One of the fires started Friday is located about seven miles northwest of Woods Canyon Lake.
Named the Crossing Fire, it is estimated at 800 acres, and has prompted officials to close some forest roads.
Forest Road 100 is closed at the junction with Forest Road 117 and Forest Road 34 is closed at the junction with Forest Road 300.
Fire crews continue to work with Arizona Public Service officials to minimize impact to the power transmission lines that are located in the area. Smoke columns from this fire were readily visible throughout Friday.
Another fire started Friday is the Weimer Fire, located about eight miles north of Forest Lakes and to the east of Chevelon Canyon Lake.
This fire is at an estimated 30 acres and is burning toward the northeast. Smoke has been visible from Forest Lakes, Heber and Overgaard. Fire crews and engines are on scene and working to suppress the fire.
The Delado Fire is located about seven miles east of Chevelon Canyon Lake and south of Forest Road 504. Estimated to be at 30 acres, fire engines and a bulldozer continue working to suppress the fire.
The Appreciation Fire was the last fire started on Friday. It is located about two miles southeast of Bear Canyon Lake near Forest Road 84.
Fire crews were able to construct a containment line around this 10-acre fire Friday.
The Black Mesa Ranger District continues to manage the Durfee Fire.
Despite strong and gusty winds Friday, fire crews have held the fire south of Forest Road 504.
Its size is estimated at 900 acres.
Forest Road 170 remains closed at the junction with Forest Road 504 on the north end, and about six miles south of this junction on the south end. The road to Chevelon Canyon Retreat remains open.
Roberts said the Payson Ranger District usually responds to 100 wildfires a year. Last year was slow, with only 40 wildfires. This year, Roberts reports they are one to two fires ahead of where they were at the same time last year.
“This has been a rather slow fire season for us,” he said.