Three wind-whipped wildfires near Flagstaff have opened the fire season with an inferno, forcing hundreds to evacuate and drawing in crews from surrounding areas and prompting the Tonto National Forest managers to pray the ban on all fires in the forest will avert disaster here.
The most frightening fire at the moment is the 10,000-acre and growing Schultz Fire, burning near Shultz Pass Road — forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents and sending aloft a column of smoke visible from Payson all weekend.
More than 800 firefighters battling the blaze have so far prevented the fire from claiming any structures. Officials on Tuesday morning said evacuation orders are still in effect for: Timberline, Wupatki Trails, Hutchinson Acres, Elden Springs Road, Sunset Crater National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. Travelers should prepare for the highway to close at any moment. Investigators have determined the cause of the Schultz Fire to be from an abandoned campfire near Schultz Tank and the Elden Trail. If anyone has any information concerning the incident, or was camping or recreating in the area over the weekend, please call the Coconino National Forest Supervisor’s Office at (928) 527-3600.
Fire managers met with residents last night at Coconino High School to provide the latest information.
Most of the crews in the region have been sent to the fire line for the Shultz Fire, which on Monday was not at all contained and still growing rapidly.
The Tonto National Forest has so far escaped major blazes in what is turning into a scary fire season. Ample winter rains nurtured lush spring growth, but nearly two rainless months has turned all that fuel to tinder.
The Tonto National Forest in early June banned all fires outside of developed campgrounds, and activities like smoking, hoping to prevent that fatal spark. This week, Coconino and Kaibab forests did the same.
June is usually the worst month of the year for wildfires, since it’s the hottest, driest time of the year.
The fire danger will remain high until the monsoons start, usually sometime in July.
Struggling to slow the spread of the Shultz Fire that grew by thousands of acres every day, the Forest Service Monday dispatched crews from across the region, but high winds grounded the air tankers for long stretches on Monday and Sunday.
In addition to the massive Shultz Fire, crews spent the weekend fighting two other fires.
The Hardy Fire on Monday was 30 percent contained at 300 acres southwest of Herold Ranch Road and Little America near Flagstaff. Police have arrested a California man for building a small campfire believed responsible for starting that blaze.
Meanwhile, the Eagle Rock Fire on Monday was about 60 percent contained, after burning 3,420 acres in the Kaibab National Forest 11 miles northwest of Williams on the northeast side of Sitgreaves Mountain. Officials suspect lightning caused that fire.
The Schultz Fire started at approximately 11:09 am on Sunday and is located west of north Highway 89, east of Flagstaff, and north of Mount Elden. The Sheriff’s office is recommending that evacuation kits include prescription medications, important paperwork, pet care products, a change of clothing and water.