Wildfire Trapped

Long, costly struggle remains


Crews have the Sunflower Fire 30 percent contained the fire on the south east side, near Hwy 87.

Crews have the Sunflower Fire 30 percent contained the fire on the south east side, near Hwy 87. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Over the weekend, fire crews gained a big advantage on the rugged 16,115-acre Sunflower Fire.

Hundreds of firefighters from around the country are still battling the blaze that as of Tuesday morning was at 25-square-miles and 43 percent containment.

Officials say Hotshot crews are reinforcing fire lines and no structures, power lines nor the highway corridor is at risk.

Fire officials have set a July 30 containment date, but cautioned that the blaze could hang on for some time as interior fuels continue to burn. That means smoke will also linger over Payson.

On Sunday, the fire appeared to quiet down from days prior when high winds and low humidity threatened to push the blaze north beyond Mount Peeley.

Given the rough terrain and continued high temperatures, the fire could still escape its confinement and incident officials are preparing for long-term fire operations.

Elsewhere around the state, fire crews reported making significant headway on the Bull Flat Fire, which is 20 miles northwest of Cibecue, and some progress on the Gladiator Fire.

A bevy of issues are making it difficult for crews to wrangle in the Gladiator Fire. Wind, extended low humidity, high temperatures and tinder-box conditions Monday threatened to erase any progress more than 1,000 firefighters had made.

Crews continued chipping brush along the Crown King Road and patrolling containment lines around the small mining community of Crown King, which remains evacuated.

As of Tuesday, the 14,963-acre blaze was 19 percent contained. The total cost of fighting the fire has passed $5 million.

On the Bull Flat Fire, the Eastern Arizona Incident Command Team turned the fire back over to local authorities Monday night. The fire burned 2,145 acres and is 95 percent contained. A fourth fire on the San Carlos Indian Reservation has been contained.

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