Plumes of smoke on the horizon have alarmed Rim Country residents more than they have firefighters, who continue to monitor several fires in the region crawling through monsoon damp forests.
The low-intensity fires in the Rim Country have burned hundreds of acres in the past week and crews expect the low-intensity fires to eventually grow to perhaps 20,000 acres, augmented by deliberately set backfires intended to thin brush-choked terrain.
Three nearby fires continued to burn on Tuesday, although fire managers hope to take advantage of the damp fuels to let the slow-moving ground fires gobble up downed logs and brush that would pose a much greater danger in bone-dry, windy months like May and June.
The Bluff Fire north of Young had grown to 250 acres on Monday, but the Forest Service was continuing to let it burn to naturally thin the damp but overgrown forests.
Crews also kept watch on the 450-acre Sand Rock and the 70-acre Zeus fires, burning atop the Rim just north of Pine. Fire crews this week set a 500-acre back fire to make sure that the twin fires near the junctions of Highway 260 and Highway 87 remain contained.
Crews plan to let the two fires burn for the next three weeks or so and expect them to reach a combined total of some 16,000 acres. Some smoke will likely drift down Pine Canyon each evening and the fire will produce a plume of smoke visible in Pine, Strawberry and the Verde Valley.
On Monday afternoon, the Tonto National Forest issued an advisory that a lightning strike had started yet another fire near Young — on top of a controlled burn that had already sent smoke drifting into the small community.
Forest Service officials said that moist conditions and the predicted arrival of a fresh monsoon pattern this week have kept the fires mostly under control, burning along the ground and essentially doing the otherwise expensive task of thinning the forest.
Earlier this year, tinder-dry fuels and overgrown conditions produced one of the worst wildfire seasons in memory, including the 733-square-mile Wallow Fire, which burned through a huge swath of the White Mountains.
Temperature, winds and fuel conditions make a dramatic difference in fire behavior, especially in the overgrown thickets that dominate much of Rim Country. Forest managers now try to let the low-intensity ground fires to which ponderosa pine forests are adapted burn whenever possible, to reduce the risk of out-of-control wildfires in May and June which climb into treetops and create devastating crown fires, usually before monsoon rains arrive in July.
Across the U.S., the National Interagency Coordination center lists 177 new fires and 17 large fires, 37 of them still uncontained.
Other fires in the region still burning on Tuesday included:
• Rocky Fire: The fire has burned 600 acres southeast of Oak Creek about two miles south of Stoneman Lake. Ultimately, crews expect the fire to grow to about 6,500 acres, as it rambles through the brushy understory of a ponderosa pine forest. Firefighters will deliberately torch about 300 acres a day to contain the fire and take advantage of the opportunity to thin the undergrowth.
• Bolt Fire: Now considered “inactive,” the fire covered about 1,790 acres in the Coconino National Forest being monitored just east of Interstate 17 between Munds Park and Kachina Village.
• Strawberry Fire: 31 acres in the Coconino National Forest north of Flagstaff being monitored and contained.
• Beale Fire: 1,810-acre fire north of Parks in the Kaibab National Forest.
• Scout Fire: The 500-acre blaze is burning about six miles south of Clints Well near Forest Road 141H and Forest Road 320. Fire crews deliberately set fire to 300 acres on Monday and expect the fire to eventually grow to 2,100 acres.