Monsoons Spawn Rash Of Wildfires

Lightning sparks small, quiet fires across Rim Country

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Fitful, lightning-laden thunderstorms have sparked small fires throughout Rim Country this week, but high humidity and scattered rain have kept the blazes under control.

Forest Service crews are mostly boxing the fires in by clearing 30-foot firebreaks along existing roads, then letting the one-to-two-foot flames meander through the heavy brush and debris.

Fires currently chewing through brush and downed wood include the 17-acre Turkey Fire near Young, the 260-acre Mill Fire near Globe, the 185-acre Tag Fire near Knoll Lake and the small Canyon Fire on the boundary between the Tonto and Apache Sitgreaves forests in an area previously burned by the Rodeo-Chediski fire.

So far this year, hundreds of forest fires have burned 40,000 acres in Northern Arizona. About three-quarters of those fires were caused by humans.

Tonto National Forest fire management officer Helen Graham said crews are working to contain the fires within areas bounded by existing roads rather than calling in air tankers and trying to fight the fires directly.

As long as the air remains moist and fire behavior remains “moderate,” the fires will mostly benefit the forest by burning off brush and saplings without climbing up into the tops of the big trees.

So, for instance, the Turkey Fire near Young is now only 17 acres, firefighters are building a 3,000-acre box to contain it. If the fire spreads to that full 3,000 acres, it will function like a controlled burn and reduce later danger of a catastrophic fire, said Graham.

“We’re still actively managing it, but we have moderate fire behavior so it affords us a chance to build the line using existing barriers barriers. We want fire to play its natural role, cleaning up the forest floor.”

On the other hand, so far the monsoons seem to be just as coy as last year, building great masses of clouds and announcing themselves with lighting strikes, but delivering only scattered rain showers.

Normally, Rim Country gets one-third to one-half of its rainfall in the summer monsoon period. But last year, the summer monsoons delivered only a trace of rain in many areas.

“We were really expecting the monsoons to start this week,” said Graham, “but so far it’s looking very much like last year. If we continue with these widely scattered showers, fire season could persist on into the fall.”

Fortunately, so far Rim Country fires have done more good than harm, burning off ground fuels on thousands of acres without doing any damage.

Here’s a roundup of fires now burning:

Tag Fire:

The fire just six miles northwest of Christopher Creek has burned 185 acres as it moved up the flanks of the Rim and toward Knoll Lake in the Coconino Forest. Rain showers overnight quieted the fire considerably. The Forest Service has closed the area around Forest Road 295E to camping, but the Knoll Lake campground remains open. The Forest Service closed Forest Road 300 from FR 300H to FR 115.

Turkey Fire:

The fire has so far consumed about 17 acres and the Forest Service has closed several roads, including FS Road 609 west of Highway 288, FR 486 south of FR 609, FR 486 south of 609 and FS 2747 east from FR 486. The fire is burning along the ground, consuming underbrush and downed wood as fire crews create a firebreak along existing roads.

Mill Fire:

The lightning-caused fire has consumed about 260 acres in the Pinal Mountains near Signal Peak south of Globe. Crews have focused on creating a fire break to protect the communications towers on top of the peak and cutting 30-foot breaks along existing roads to keep it from spreading out of a designated area, where it threatens no structures.

Canyon Fire:

This one-acre, lightning-caused fire is mostly jumping from one downed tree to another in an area burned several years ago by the massive Rodeo-Chediski Fire. One engine company has been assigned to keep track of it as it burns, unmolested in the rugged bottom of Canyon Creek.

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