Ahead Of The Heat...

Record highs forecast, fire risk ‘extreme’

Andreas Caraveo and Elaine Richardson cool off on a lazy trip down the East Verde river. Caraveo's young son and wife wait patiently further down the river.

Andreas Caraveo and Elaine Richardson cool off on a lazy trip down the East Verde river. Caraveo's young son and wife wait patiently further down the river. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Barely a week into summer and Rim Country is already sweltering, with near record highs predicted for the weekend.

On Thursday, the National Weather Service (NOAA) issued an excessive heat warning for Northern Gila County that will last through Sunday. Payson may hit 104 today. That’s just 2 degrees below a 1949 record.

Several people cooled down by tubing down the East Verde River this week.

Temperatures aren’t always this high. For the last five years, the daytime highs in June fluctuated from a low of 88 to a high of 98 in 2012.

The NOAA said a very strong high-pressure system has created the intense temperature and low humidity conditions, which will heighten already “extreme” fire danger. Worse yet, we may get dry thunderstorms by this afternoon — with all the danger of lightning strikes and none of the relief of rainfall.

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Elaine Richardson cools off in the East Verde River trying to cope with a heat wave that could top 100.

Similar conditions sparked the Dude Fire 23 years ago.

Alarmed by the tinder-dry conditions, the Coconino National Forest on Thursday said it would close the whole area around Fossil Creek on Monday until further notice. That will shut down the popular recreation area on the July 4 weekend — both from access down the Fossil Creek Trail and the dirt road leading to the creek from the Camp Verde side.

Fire restrictions:

• No fires, even in developed campgrounds.

• No smoking, except in cars or buildings.

• No shooting guns, fireworks or explosives.

• No use of chain saws or blowtorches.

Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch sent an e-mail with a chilling reminder: “In June 23 years ago, one of the hottest months in Arizona history was experienced. Temps during this week in June rose to record temps of 122 degrees in Phoenix and to 106 degrees in Payson.”

Then — as now — the high temperatures came on top of a multi-year drought, noted Hatch. “A dry lightning strike ignited the Dude Fire beneath the Mogollon Rim. The fire ultimately torched 28,480 acres, consumed 63 homes and killed six firefighters from the Perryville Fire Crew. Five other firefighters suffered injuries. The fire conditions on the Payson Ranger District today and projected for the next several days, are almost exactly like they were on this district in June of 1990. Please ... remain vigilant and fire safe,” Hatch concluded.

One resident in Pine saw a person walking down Pine Creek Canyon Road smoking a cigarette. When the resident warned the visitor smoking is banned in the forest, the person brushed them off. The resident persisted and the smoker stopped.

Responsible businesses, such as the Circle K next to Gerardo’s Firewood Café have put yellow tape around firewood for sale to keep people from buying wood.

In addition to fire, Rim Country residents could experience dangerous health conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the elderly, infants and young children with chronic illness have a greater risk for heat stress. Between 1979 and 2003, excessive heat caused 8,015 deaths nationally — more than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.

The CDC advises the best solution to heat-related illnesses is to spend time in an air-conditioned building, such as shopping malls, public libraries or public health sponsored heat-relief shelters.

To keep up on health and safety updates, listen to local news and weather channels.

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