Driven by strong southwesterly winds, dry fuels and low humidity, a lightning-sparked wildfire had grown to 572 acres with 0% containment by Monday.
Fire officials in a meeting Sunday night said the potential is there for the Polles Fire to grow if the winds pick up this week. Given the threat of it moving toward the communities of Pine-Strawberry, East Verde Estates and the Tonto Natural Bridge, the Forest Service called in a top level fire management team. The Southwest Area Incident Management Team Number Two, under commander John Pierson, was previously working on the Bighorn Fire near Tucson.
“Things are evolving quickly,” said Tom Torres, deputy forest supervisor on the Tonto National Forest. “The fire has potential. You don’t see a big column of smoke, but the potential is out there. This a full suppression effort.”
The Polles Fire started Friday on the Polles Mesa, roughly 11 miles west of Payson and six miles south of Pine, during an isolated thunderstorm.
The National Weather Service Monday said they expect a hot and dry week with gusty winds possible Tuesday and Wednesday. By Friday and into the weekend, the hottest weather of the year is likely with temperatures over 100 degrees in Payson.
Dolores Garcia, a public information officer on the Polles Fire, said they are planning for a worst case scenario.
Given the terrain and predominant winds out of the south, the fire has been growing to the northeast, pushing toward the Tonto Natural Bridge.
The fire could also push toward East Verde Estates and Pine-Strawberry.
Residents can expect to see crews out in these areas conducting assessments and doing work, she said.
Garcia said crews are cleaning up old fuel breaks, and a dozer was out south of Pine clearing brush over the weekend and on Monday.
“Just in case we get those winds or passing thunderstorms and the winds shift and cause some erratic fire behavior,” she said.
Overnight on Sunday, activity on the fire quieted.
Working in shifts, Hotshot crews worked until 2 a.m. Monday building lines around the fire.
“The fire activity laid down due to nighttime humidity,” Garcia said, noting an infrared flight put the fire at 572 acres, up slightly from an earlier reading of 549 acres.
Crews were expected to work Monday to improve those lines with helicopters making water drops to help douse the flames.
Garcia said while the Forest Service has sometimes let lightning-sparked fires burn, that is not an option on the Polles Fire.
“Because of the conditions that is not an option,” she said, adding they are trying to keep it as small as possible and get it contained quickly.
“Today (Monday) is going to say a lot to how things were taken care of on Sunday,” she said. “We are always planning for a worst case scenario, but we are seeing some positive results.”
While crews worked on the Polles Fire Sunday night, firefighters also responded to several brush fires along State Route 260.
Garcia said they believe a dragging chain is likely to blame.
A brush fire was first reported off the 260 in the Pine-Strawberry area, and then several more fires were reported on the 260 near Star Valley. Crews contained most to a tenth of an acre.