Three house fires in one week — all started by cigarettes.
The first fire on Monday destroyed a mobile home on Elm Street, while the other two caused only minor damage. However, firefighters said only early detection accounts for the difference.
Payson Battalion Chief Dan Bramble said with extremely low fuel moisture and single-digit relative humidity, conditions are ripe for a fire. Just a few weeks ago, flames spread through 1.5 acres of a church’s side yard in minutes. The fire started after a man working on a trailer tossed a piece of metal on the ground, creating a spark that caught the surrounding brush on fire.
Meanwhile, wildfires in Colorado have killed two people, destroyed 350 homes, consumed 16,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 40,000 people. June remains the most dangerous month for wildfires in Rim Country. All the forests in the region have imposed strict limits on any fire-related activities in the forest, including campfires, smoking and using power tools.
Bramble urged residents to use extra caution when smoking or working outside.
Even cigarette butts that appear out may smolder for days, as two of the fires in Payson this week demonstrated.
On Wednesday, a small fire started on the outside of a Southwest Behavioral doublewide trailer off East Aero Drive. Bramble said people commonly smoke next to the building and a butt had apparently fallen between the building and the sidewalk, where it smoldered for some time.
An employee noticed smoke and flames and grabbed a fire extinguisher, he said. Firefighters smelled smoke when they arrived, checked the entire building and found rotting wood under the building still burning.
He said the employee’s quick actions likely saved the building.
Then on Thursday, a second-story landing caught fire, again from a cigarette butt. Bramble said a passerby noticed smoke coming from the upstairs porch at Jot Mini Storage, 900 S. McLane and called for help. By the time firefighters arrived, the tenant was pouring cups of water on the fire.
Fire Marshal Bob Lockhart determined an ember lodged in the rotting wood of the porch had simmered some time before catching fire.
Bramble said. “Left unchecked this could have started a big fire.”
Bramble added the department was lucky to have Lockhart on all the calls, since he’s now the only senior level leader at the department after Fire Chief Marty deMasi left for vacation Wednesday. deMasi will officially take his retirement after returning from the trip.
The town council announced it might eliminate Lockhart’s position later this month when it adopts next year’s budget. Bramble said it is unclear who would take on his duties if the position is eliminated.