The monsoon set in this week, with heavy rain, winds and lightning strikes that made for sometimes dangerous conditions on the fire line — and an unpredictable holiday weekend for visitors.
On Tuesday, winds fanned a seemingly quiet portion of the Cedar Fire near Show Low, forcing six members of a Navajo Hotshot crew to deploy their fire shelters as the fire veered toward them. All managed to get into their shelters as the flames approached. After the fire passed, they walked out. Paramedics rushed them to Summit Healthcare in Show Low, where they were treated and released.
The incident spurred chilling memories of 2013, when 19 Prescott firefighters were killed in their fire shelters when intense flames swept down on them, burning so hot the shelters melted and disintegrated.
The Forest Service set up a serious accident investigation team to figure out how the Navajo crew could have come so close to disaster on the edge of a 47,000-acre fire managers had considered subdued — with little chance of growth.
Elsewhere, the sometimes heavy rainstorms both sparked new fires and doused existing blazes.
The National Weather Service puts the chance of rain at 60 percent Friday and Saturday, but forecasts only a “slight” chance of storms on Sunday. Highs should climb into the upper 80s each day until the clouds roll in during the afternoon. Lows should drop into the low 60s.
On Monday, the Payson forecast calls for clear skies, a high near 93 and a perfect night for a July 4 fireworks display. In past years, as many as 20,000 people have crowded into Green Valley Park to enjoy the fireworks.
The thunderstorms sent water rushing down Tonto Creek, which jumped up to twice its normal flow for this time of the year. The Salt River and the Verde River still have just two-thirds of their normal flow, according to the Salt River Project’s daily water report.
SRP continues to pump 31 cubic feet per second out of the C.C. Cragin Reservoir to send down the East Verde River. The reservoir on which Payson’s water future depends has declined to about 51 percent capacity after nearly two months of pumping.
Despite the rain, fire restrictions remain in place on the Tonto National Forest.
All week, the lightning storms kept firefighters busy chasing new blazes, although the accompanying rain and high humidity kept most of the new fires well behaved.
Lightning-caused fires on the Tonto Forest included:
The Red Fire: Located on Red Mountain west of Highway 87, and east of Bartlett Lake, the fire grew to 10 acres before firefighters dug a line around it.
The Breadpan Fire 10 miles west of Young grew to 17 acres in a remote area, burning in brush and pinyon-juniper. The fire poses no threat to structures at this time.
The Superstition Fire atop a mesa at the west end of the Superstition Wilderness quickly grew to 520 acres in light grass, before rains set in to douse it.
The Plow Fire 15 miles north of Superior and 12 miles from Roosevelt Dam grew to only about half an acre before hitting rock outcroppings that left it nowhere to go.
The Angel Fire in the Superstition Wilderness near Superior grew to five acres, before rainstorms snuffed it out.
The Goat Fire 17 miles northeast of Black Canyon City quickly grew to 335 acres in grass and pinyon-juniper.
For now, firefighters are just monitoring the fire — which could force the closure of several Forest Service roads if the rains don’t put it out.
The Basin Fire 19 miles north of Scottsdale grew to five acres before crews contained it.
The 1,000-acre Bug Creek Fire south of Cordes Junction briefly closed northbound I-17 as air tankers swooped in. Traffic shifted to Highway 87 and Highway 260 as the fire advanced through the Agua Fria National Monument, threatening a host of archaeological sites.
The 430-acre Four Peaks Fire and the 31,000-acre Juniper Fire near Young have both subsided, with no growth in the past several days.