All it took was a resident flipping on a metal cutting torch Tuesday to ignite a Round Valley front yard, spurring the deployment of an airplane, helicopter and multiple firefighting crews and engines.
Given the incredibly dry conditions fueling a 7,500-acre fire in nearby Prescott that has forced hundreds of people from their homes, fire crews here weren’t taking any chances when the call came that a yard was on fire south of town.
“It was a tense few minutes there,” said Don Nunley, local Forest Service fire management officer. “We heard Payson Fire get toned out and immediately sent a helicopter and an airplane and crews.”
With hot, dry weather, tinderbox fuels and the monsoons likely weeks out, conditions are ripe for a catastrophic fire, Nunley said.
Earlier that same day, the Doce Fire started eight miles northwest of Prescott and winds quickly spread the flames through dry Manzanita and Chaparral, forcing the evacuation of several areas. Estimates Friday put that fire at more than 7,500 acres.
There were also two smaller fires reported on the Mogollon Rim Tuesday, one near Milk Ranch Point and another east of Christopher Creek near Promontory Point.
Crews caught both of those fires early as well as the one in Round Valley.
“We have just been fortunate on these starts to get on them quickly,” Nunley said.
But all it takes is a spark. That was the case Tuesday.
A man working in the 400 block of Round Valley Road reportedly turned on a flaming cutting torch to remove a metal post in his front yard.
He had just touched the flame to the post when sparks caught the fine grass below, according to a Payson Fire Department official. Almost instantly, the fire spread to the yard’s juniper bushes.
The homeowner grabbed a hose and knocked down most of the flames with firefighters helping contain it to a 10-by-20-foot area.
The Gila County Sheriff’s Office cited the man for violating fire restrictions, which bar any open flames in the forest or unincorporated areas.
“People need to pay attention to what they are doing because it can turn catastrophic,” Nunley said.
Currently, the area fluctuates between very high and extreme fire conditions depending on the humidity levels.
Nearing the end of June, the area is as dry as it will be all year, Nunley said.
The Forest Service has beefed up resources in the area and is bringing in a prevention patrol from California. Some 600 firefighters are battling the Doce Fire, but 60 remain on alert in Rim Country.
If not on a fire, crews are out every day talking to people about fire restrictions.
Until at least the first few weeks of the monsoons pass and moisten the fuels, crews are holding their breath.