Weather willing, the Forest Service will torch hundreds of debris piles on the outskirts of Pine, Strawberry and Payson starting this week — hoping to reduce the fire danger on more than 2,200 acres before the start of the next fire season.
The operations will likely send smoke drifting through Payson and Pine in the afternoon and evening in an effort to expand buffer zones around the area. This is part of an ongoing effort in the Rim communities to prevent fierce, summer wildfires from roaring out of the dangerously overgrown forest and sweeping through towns.
The plan to burn off the debris piles left by hand-thinning operations last year will depend on relative humidity, temperature, wind speed and direction, and fuel moisture content.
Generally, the burns will be limited to existing debris piles, since once the winter rains set in it’s too damp for effective controlled burns of areas that haven’t been thinned. By contrast, the one- and two-ton debris piles left from hand-thinning can usually burn even when it’s damp or snowy.
All this week, crews from the Payson Ranger District planned to burn 450 acres of debris piles north and east of Pine. Residents can expect to see light to moderate smoke each day moving up and over Milk Ranch Point and the Mogollon Rim. Most smoke will dissipate by 3 pm., although as night falls and the smoke-laced air cools and flows downhill, residual smoke will drift down Pine Creek.
Crews also plan to eliminate debris piles this week with prescription fires on about 350 acres in the following locations:
• North of Home Depot and Payson Pines in Payson,
• Along a ridge west of Payson and north of Oxbow Estates,
• North of Round Valley turnoff off Highway 87, and south of Oxbow Estates.
Residents and visitors to the area can expect to see light to moderate smoke each day of the operation.
Most smoke will dissipate by sundown, but smoky air will flow down Lousy Gulch and Rye Creek in the evening hours. In addition, smoke may linger north of Home Depot and Payson Pines during evening hours.