Off and on heavy monsoon storms this week dampened a scattering of wildfires and eased firefighters’ fears of another dry summer rain season.
On Thursday, the skies opened and dumped just short of an inch of rain in Payson, .92 of an inch, while the day before just a 10th of an inch was recorded. Early Thursday morning, East Verde Estates got drenched with 2.5 inches of rain in an hour, according to the rain gauges of some residents there. For the month, Payson has received 1.81 inches of rainfall.
In Payson, some drainage ditches overflowed, washing debris onto city streets, but early reports indicate there was no serious flooding. Lightning Thursday afternoon caused a house fire (see story above). Two street lights were knocked out in the storm, one at Highway 260 and Manzanita and another in the 200 block of Highway 260.
The East Verde River rose abruptly, topping the culvert crossing at the entrance to East Verde Estates at least briefly on Thursday.
The U.S. Weather Service predicts a roughly 30-60-percent chance of showers every afternoon in Payson through the weekend, declining to 10 to 35 percent next week.
Thunderstorms in Flagstaff caused mudslides that besieged some houses on the edges of the Schultz Fire burn area. Two inches of rain fell in a hour Thursday, with some 85 homes reporting flood damage.
Half a dozen other fires burning throughout Rim Country fizzled as a result of the high humidity and intermittent rain showers. A weather alert warned of locally heavy flooding, hail, thunderstorms and ground lightning.
Firefighters in Rim Country are feeling cautiously optimistic that the monsoon season will deliver some rain this summer, driven by the sharp sea surface warming in the Eastern Pacific known as an El Niño condition. Weather forecasters say the 3-5 degree warming of surface layers covering an area about the size of the continental U.S. delivered a wet winter to Rim Country and now should produce above-average monsoon moisture — although similar, but milder conditions last year yielded hardly any summer rainfall in Rim Country.
Normally, Payson gets about 22 inches of rainfall annually, half of it in July and August. The failure of the monsoon season to deliver last year extended the fire season into the fall and produced the frightening Water Wheel Fire which forced the evacuation of Beaver Valley and Whispering Pines.
All the national forests in Northern Arizona have lifted fire restrictions, which barred campfires except in designated fire rings in campgrounds, along with risky activities like smoking in the forest and target shooting. Rangers say people can have campfires now, but must have with them a water bucket and a shovel and must make sure that the ashes of the fire are cold enough to touch before they leave, not merely doused and covered with dirt. Coals still warm to the touch can burst back to life if wind stirs the embers.
A spate of fires sparked by last week’s dry thunderstorms were dampened this week by the wet storms.
The 578-acre, lightning-caused Zimmerman Fire near Roosevelt Lake started July 15 and flared Wednesday, threatening some structures.
Burning southeast of Asbestos Point in the Sierra Ancha Mountains, the fire is burning through thick, dry pinion and juniper. Crews have been setting backfires to contain the blaze.
The lightning-caused Turkey Fire near Young has grown to 350 acres and remains completely uncontained, having triggered the closure of a whole network of roads in the area. Firefighters have been creating a fire break along those roads and letting the fire burn itself out — turning it from a wildfire into what amounts to a controlled burn that will ultimately help protect Young from a major wildfire in the future.