Horton Fire

A national database suggests that wildfire smoke may play a role in the die-off of migrating birds.

When a fire was spotted burning above Horton Springs early Wednesday morning, the Forest Service went to its arsenal of tools and called in an army of aircraft to douse the flames.

Given the dry conditions, crews worried the Horton Fire could quickly race up the Mogollon Rim and spread rapidly.

“If we didn’t get sent the response that we did, the potential for it to go up to the top of the Rim could be very, very high,” said Jeremy Plain, acting deputy fire staff for the Tonto National Forest. “We were very concerned.”

Besides five engines, three attack crews, an air attack plane, Chinook helicopter and additional helicopters were called in.

That aggressive initial response worked with the fire knocked down by the afternoon. As of Wednesday night, the fire was at 2.75 acres and 80% containment.

From the Diamond Point fire lookout tower, Dee Carstensen first spotted smoke around 4:45 a.m. Wednesday and called it in to the duty officer.

There was a ground crew already in the area, a team out of Oregon on standby in case a fire like this started.

Another type 2 crew out of the Valley was ordered. Given the fire was roughly a four-mile hike in, Plain knew it would take ground crews some time to reach the fire.

The fire had started at roughly where the Highline Trail and Horton Springs Trail converge.

“It was in a bad spot,” he said.

Given the remote location, Plain also knew the fire had the potential to grow as the area has seen no moisture in weeks and things are very dry.

In fact, every national forest in the state, except for the Coronado, is on stage 1 fire restrictions.

“For October, that is unprecedented,” he said.

It has been a record-breaking fire season with the hottest Arizona summer on record and a non-existent monsoon.

Payson got just 3.6 inches during the monsoon — about 48% of normal. The summer rain season ranks as the fifth driest since 1940.

All of Arizona remains in drought, with all of Gila County and most of both Apache and Navajo counties in a state of “extreme drought.” Most of Pinal County remains in “exceptional” drought.

As such, stage 1 fire restriction orders prohibit campfires, smoking, shooting and other activities at least through Oct. 31.

Contact the editor at abechman@payson.com

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