The relieved residents of Beaver Valley celebrated their survival on Saturday, with a joyful community bash to thank firefighters even as the U.S. Forest Service declared the rain-doused Water Wheel Fire 100-percent contained.
The dash of rain only served to enliven the proceedings, which drew locals and even celebrity drop-ins like Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.
The Forest Service declared the fire completely contained on Sunday, although road closures remain in effect. The fires started on Aug. 30 on the road across from the popular Water Wheel Campground, although the Forest Service has not yet announced an official cause.
The burned area remains closed to the public, with limited access allowed only on the roadways and private property.
Due the danger of charred guardrails and trees, Houston Mesa Road between Beaver Valley and Whispering Pines remains closed. Whispering Pines is only accessible by the Control Road. The following recreation sites also remain closed: Water Wheel, First Crossing, Second Crossing, Third Crossing, and Cold Spring recreation sites.
Tonto National Forest Deputy Fire Staff Officer Helen Graham cautioned the public, “With the ongoing drought we are experiencing in our forest and the high number of visitors, we continue to emphasize practicing extreme caution in all fire practices, such as making campfires. Make sure that campfires are absolutely out before departing your area. Dead out.”
The Tonto National Forest is open for recreation activity, including campsites and recreation sites throughout the forest and all the Salt River system lakes.
At its peak, the fire drew more than 450 firefighters, charred 773 acres and came within a quarter mile of both Whispering Pines and Beaver Valley. The fire cost an estimated $2 million to fight, but a lucky shift of winds and a brief rainstorm at a critical moment ensured the estimated 700 evacuees had homes to return to.
The residents had feared they’d have to cancel their annual Beaver Valley Day festivities, but it instead turned into a happy celebration — festooned with “Thank you Firefighters” signs, to augment the “A Fire Wiser Community” sign at the front door.