Crews struggled with two Rim Country fires over the weekend, the lightning-caused Canyon Fire that charred 6,935 acres 15 miles north of the Blue Ridge Reservoir and the 40-acre Haufer Fire north of Tonto Basin.
Neither fire has damaged any structures and crews remain confident they can keep the fires under control, especially with a 40 to 50 percent chance of rain forecast each day this week starting today.
About 75 firefighters had the human-caused Haufer Fire under control on Monday, said Jason Crews, acting fire management officer for the Globe and Tonto Basin Fire Districts.
However, the Canyon Fire remained more of a problem — with only 38 percent containment as of Tuesday morning. The fire closed Highway 87 in the Jacks Canyon area over the weekend, but crews reopened the highway on Monday morning.
About 125 firefighters continued to battled the blaze on Monday, burning mostly in pinions and junipers. The fire is burning in a rugged area popular with rock climbers.
Fire officials on Monday didn’t respond to questions about whether the fire was burning in the watershed that empties into the Blue Ridge Reservoir. Payson officials have pleaded with the U.S. Forest Service to make thinning the overgrown slopes above Blue Ridge a top priority. They fear that the increase in erosion following a fierce fire would start to fill in the reservoir, which will one day supply more than half of Payson’s water needs.
Fire crews used trucks, two aircraft, three helicopters and bulldozers to rough out a fire line and keep the fire from spreading out of control. Embers did land behind fire lines, but crews managed to put out the spot fires before they could spread.
The cost of fighting the fire has already exceeded $300,000.
Firefighters may get a boost from the weather, as monsoon conditions begin to build over Rim Country. The fire stemmed from one of the early, “dry” thunderstorms that often heralds the onset of the monsoon season. The U.S. Weather Service predicts a 40 percent chance of rain in Payson today and a 50 percent chance on July 4 — a potential damper for Payson’s big fireworks show.
The chance of thunderstorms will remain at around 50 percent through Friday.
Forest Service officials renewed their warnings to July 4 visitors, fearing a careless act would turn the extreme fire danger into a tragedy.
The Forest Service has already closed the area between Highways 260 and 87 and the top of the Mogollon Rim. They have also closed most of the campgrounds south of the road due to bear attacks in the past several weeks.
However, people can still hike and camp atop the Rim and in areas south of Highway 260 not closed by the bear attacks.
Forest Service officials are alarmed by ongoing violations of not only the closure orders, but also of the fire restrictions throughout all of the forests in Rim Country. That includes a ban on target shooting, which was the cause of the 18,000-acre Sunflower Fire. That fire cost $6 million to fight.
The restrictions also bar campfires even in developed campgrounds, smoking outside of vehicles or buildings, the use of chain saws and engines without spark arrestors, welding, explosives or any fireworks.
Propane stoves and lanterns are acceptable in most areas.
Forest Service officials say plenty of areas remain open, so long as people pay attention to the fire restrictions.
“We want people to know that the Tonto is open for business, and so are the towns and businesses that cater to our visitors,” said Forest Supervisor Neil Bosworth.