Residents of the Whispering Pines and Beaver Valley subdivisions have been evacuated and a shelter set up at the Payson High School gym due to the Water Wheel Fire, north of Payson. Forest Service officials say the fire began in the vicinity of the Water Wheel Campground, which is located on Houston Mesa Road (Rt. 199). The fire began south of Whispering Pines subdivision. It was reported around 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 30. The Gila County Sheriff’s Office is supervising the evacuation. Combating the fire as of Sunday afternoon were two hearvy air tankers, a helicopter and 15 engines.
Residents of Beaver Valley cheered at a Forest Service briefing in the high school gym Monday night when they learned that no only did their homes survive a fierce, wind-whipped fire on Sunday, but they could all go home as of 9 p.m. August 31. The Forest Service said Whispering Pine residents can go home at 5 p.m. Tuesday but they should use the Control Road since Houston Mesa Road will remain closed for now.
Residents of Whispering Pines will have to wait until Tuesday, but at least they should have homes to return to, said Tony Sciacca, commander of some 450 firefighters gathered to contain the 771-acre blaze that came within a quarter mile of consuming both Whispering Pines and Beaver Valley Sunday.
The fire that had rampaged out of control on Sunday behaved itself on Monday, having effectively trapped itself by burning upslope on three sides of the steep slopes of Diamond Rim, which looms between the two forest communities. The predicted surge in winds that had alarmed firefighters Monday morning, instead delivered mostly rain on Monday night.
Throughout the day Monday, the fire mostly smoldered, spotted and fumed largely within the limits it had created on Sunday, when it had lunged first north towards Whispering Pines then south towards Beaver Valley. It eventually chased up the sides of Diamond Rim, with flames leaping 50 feet above the treetops and creating a mushroom cloud visible across Rim Country.