A heavy air assault brought the Long Fire south of Payson under control Saturday, although the blaze briefly shut down Highway 87 in both directions.
The brush fire started in the afternoon 35 miles south of Payson along the west side of Highway 87. The flames jumped into the median and burned through roughly 30 acres of brush and grass before firefighters wrangled it in.
The fire flared up in several areas along the roadway, causing a headache for hundreds of motorists who were forced to take State Route 188 through Globe to reach the Valley.
Shortly after the fire started, officials closed sides of the highway, fearing the flames could get pushed east.
Officers closed the Beeline Highway southbound from milepost 199, at the Bush Highway-Saguaro Lake Road, to milepost 235, at State Route 188.
All northbound traffic detoured onto the Bush Highway while southbound traffic took State Route 188.
A steady line of trailers, RVs and vehicles filled State Route 188. The detour meant at least an extra two hours of drive time for recreationists heading down from Payson to the Valley.
Lt. Kim Timmins, with the Tonto Basin Fire Department, said when she arrived on the scene with a water tender, a number of aircraft were already attacking the blaze, including two fixed-wing aircraft and two helicopters
helicopters. “They attacked it real fast because it was spreading,” she said. “It went into the median and they were afraid it would go onto the east side of the highway.”
Tonto Basin and the Payson fire departments brought water tenders to refill Forest Service water tanks. Timmins stayed on scene for roughly seven hours. A Payson fire engine stood by at the Dos S Ranch in case flames got close, since Forest Service crews are not trained to fight a structure fire, said Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi.
The ranch was the only structure in danger and luckily, stayed out of harm’s way.
Two Hotshot crews had the fire contained by 8:30 p.m. and the roadway was reopened.
Fire investigators have not determined a cause, but believe it likely started near the roadway, said a forest official.