Young Wildfire Expands To 3,700 Acres

Crews plan backfires to trap blaze

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A wind-whipped fire six miles north of Young has expanded to 3,700 acres and injured at least one firefighter, who was hospitalized when the fall of a burned tree broke his leg.

The Payson Airport became a major staging ground for the air assault on the fire that has claimed no structures, but now threatens a major APS power line.

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Photo courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Dept.

Flames from the Poco Fire closed State Route 288, the main road into Young from Rim Country and threatened power lines.

Smoke from the 30-mile distant blaze drifted into Rim Country over the weekend, spurring alarm and breathing problems in Payson. Despite the smoke, the air quality in Payson remained “good,” according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).

Although the 704 firefighters have the fire only 15 percent contained, the growth potential of the fire chewing through through ponderosa pine in rugged and remote canyons now has only a “moderate” potential for growth, according to the U.S. Forest Service. (For updates, go to: http://www. inciweb.org/incident/2911/).

Firefighters hoped to protect the power line on the fire’s east side and halt the spread of the fire Monday and Tuesday by starting backfires along existing roads and burning off the thick underbrush. Hot, windy conditions frustrated those plans, but they’ve rescheduled the backfires for later this week.

Crews continue to struggle with temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s and tinder-dry fuels. The Rim Country has received less than a third of its normal rainfall since January.

On Monday morning, weather conditions on the fire line included a temperature of 81 degrees, 13 percent humidity and wind speeds of 14 miles an hour.

The fire had by Monday slowed its once-explosive growth, although it continued to cast burning embers far ahead of the fire lines on the northwest boundary.

Moreover, the prayed-for onset of the monsoon season may initially at least present more threat than relief. Typically, the lead-up to the drenching rains of the monsoon season are preceded by several weeks of “dry storms,” which generate lots of lightning that can easily spark new fires but don’t deliver much moisture.

Weather forecasters on Monday warned firefighters of the possibility of thunderstorms and lightning strikes.

On Sunday, the fire spread west onto Round Mountain and the Naegelin Rim.

The Forest Service dispatches aircraft in the afternoon to slow fire growth and assist firefighters on the ground. The Forest Service has been throwing more and more resources at the fire since it started from undetermined causes last Thursday at about 2:33 in the afternoon. Resources on the incident include 11 Hotshot crews, six 20-person crews, 24 engines, four dozers, 14 water tenders, and four helicopters. Crews have been assembled from seven western states.

On Monday, the tempo of the firefighting had slowed enough that the Forest Service offered Young residents a tour of the incident base camp at Young Elementary.

Forest Road 512 remains closed as crews “mop up” the fire along the south edge between FR 291 and FR 200 (Chamberlin Trail). In addition, the Forest Service closed a portion of the forest east of FR 200, south of FR 291 and north of FR 512.

Smoke from the fiercely burning blaze has spread throughout the region, with thick smoke drifting into Payson depending on a shift in the winds.

Injured firefighter

The Forest Service has so far released only sketchy details on the injury sustained by a member of the Geronimo Interagency Hotshot Crew, based at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. Many Apache firefighters work in elite firefighting crews throughout the nation during wildfire season, since it remains a vital source of seasonal work on reservations that often have 50 percent unemployment.

The firefighter was injured on June 15 when a dead tree fell onto the fire line where he and the crew were working. He was evacuated by air to Phoenix with a broken leg and related injuries.

“We want to thank everyone who assisted in this successful med-evac,” stated Helen Graham, acting fire staff for Tonto National Forest. “The cooperation resulted in quick and necessary medical attention.”

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Photo by Rachael Hohl, Tonto National Forest

By Monday the Poco Fire had slowed its once-explosive growth, although it continued to cast burning embers far ahead of the fire lines on the northwest boundary.

Conditions extreme

Forest Service officials continue to remind the public that wildfire potential conditions are extreme on the forest and that elevated fire restrictions are in place. No fireworks are allowed on the forest at any time. Payson has imposed similar restrictions, which apply throughout the Tonto National Forest as well.

For statewide road conditions and closures please go to http://www.az511.gov/ or dial 5-1-1 from any landline or mobile phone from anywhere in Arizona. From outside Arizona, dial 1-888-411-ROAD (7623) or 602-523-0244.

Health issues

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality continues to monitor the impact of thick smoke on air quality.

Smoke from fires can cause health problems, especially for people with existing respiratory issues. The fine soot particles have a much greater impact on breathing capacity than earlier estimates acknowledged.

Guidelines based on visibility offer guidance to reduce the impact of smoke, with special concerns for people with asthma, heart or lung disease, seniors and children.

The Arizona Department of Health Services guidelines say that if the smoke is thick enough to reduce visibility to less than a mile, sensitive people should remain indoors altogether and people should avoid all outdoor physical activities.

The ADEQ on Monday listed the air quality in Payson as “good,” with 6 parts per million particulates. Flagstaff and Camp Verde both had “moderate” air quality, with 21 to 27 ppm. By contrast, most of the Valley has only moderate air quality, although little of the smoke has reached it.

According to the Health Services notice “Generally speaking, the worse the visibility, the worse the conditions. To use the visibility guidelines, face away from the sun, determine the limit of your visibility range by looking for targets at known distances (miles). The visibility range is the point at which even high contrast objects totally disappear. This is not the point at which you can see the smoke.

“People who are sensitive include those with heart or lung disease, older adults and children. If you are advised to stay indoors, keep your windows and doors closed. Run your air conditioner, if you have one. Avoid using anything that burns inside, such as wood and gas stoves, candles and cigarettes.

“Air filtration devices that use HEPA filters can reduce the level of particles indoors. Do not use an air cleaner that works by generating ozone. If you have asthma or other lung diseases, be vigilant about taking the medications prescribed by your doctor. If you are supposed to measure your peak flows, make sure you do so. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

“The same particles that cause problems for people may cause some problems for animals. Don’t force your animals to run or work in smoky conditions. If your pet has heart or lung disease, follow the same visibility guidelines as for sensitive people.”

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