SHOW LOW – Extreme fire conditions have northern Arizona residents on extreme edge. With existing fires since early in the month and now a breakout of several new lightning-caused fires having broken out over the weekend near Heber, residents are praying for a swift relief from the monsoons.
The Backbone Fire
The lightning-caused Backbone Fire, moving painfully close to Pine and Strawberry, has now burned approximately 24,198 acres as of Sunday evening, with 0% containment. It is being fueled by Pinyon Juniper, Chaparral, brush, grass, cactus and currently has 251 assigned personnel.
With a large smoke column seen throughout Verde Valley, Backbone Fire activity increased to the north and west, steadily moving towards State Route 260 and Needle Rock Ranch. All aircraft were used for perimeter control, with the goal of keeping the fire on top of Deadman Mesa while also preventing it from establishing into Hardscrabble Canyon or crossing the Verde River south of Gap Creek. Ground resources put in hand and mechanical lines.
Horton Complex Fire
The lightning-caused Horton Complex Fire, located near Alpine five miles northeast of Hannagan Meadow, began June 16 and has burned 1,490 acres and sits at 0% containment. Fueled by heavy dead and downed logs, the assigned resources include: 2 Hand Crews, 8 Engines, 2 Helicopters, 2 Dozers, 1 Feller Buncher, and 4 Water Tenders for a total of 112 personnel.
Firefighters continue to scout for fire line opportunities and are monitoring fire movement closely. Burnout operations will be conducted as needed and only when safe to do so. Aviation resources will continue to be utilized to minimize growth in critical areas of the fire. Unusually low humidity and moisture levels have increased the potential for extreme fire behavior. Power lines have been intermittently de-energized along highway 191 between Josh Ranch and Hannagan Meadow as precautionary measures.
Firefighters are working to protect and mitigate risks to the Josh Ranch, Beaverhead Lodge, Sprucedale Ranch, Hannagan Meadow, historic Balke Cabin, and Navopache Electric power lines. Important wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species is adjacent to these fires and may be threatened in the future.
The Bear Fire, also near Alpine, 13 miles west of Hannagan Meadow on the Clifton Ranger District continues to spread under hot, dry conditions south of Hannagan Meadow. It is 2,200 acres and is at 0% containment. Due to the fire’s location, fuels and values at risk, forest officials have chosen a confine/contain and point protection strategy for this incident which will reduce exposure to suppression resources. The fire was caused by lightning and detected June 16.
Point protection of Highway 191, range improvements, remote cabins, and Rose Peak Lookout is in process. Current fire behavior includes smoldering, creeping, single tree and isolated torching in Ponderosa pine with grass and brush.
The Wyrick Fire
The Wyrick Fire is located approximately eight miles northwest of Heber on the Black Mesa Ranger District of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. It sparked at around 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and activity has increased in the area northwest of Heber, 1.5 miles from 95A. Outflow winds from Sunday’s thunderstorms pushed the fire toward the southeast and the fire is generally spreading in all directions. The fire has burned about 3,000 acres as of Sunday evening and is fueled by pinyon-juniper and grass with long range spotting up to one-quarter mile. There are approximately 91 personnel working on the fire.
A critical fire weather pattern is expected to continue into this week with excessively hot, dry and unstable conditions yielding to dry lightning potential as moisture lingers in areas to the west. Temperatures are forecast in the high 80s with a slight chance of thunderstorms.
Major concerns are the 500 kV lines west and northwest of the fire and the Chevlon Retreat.
West Chev Fire
The West Chev Fire also sparked early Saturday afternoon and is located on the Black Mesa Ranger District of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, about 13 miles from the Forest Lakes community and is called the West Chev Fire. As afternoon temperatures rose, fire activity increased with running and torching in Ponderosa pine, grass, and brush.
While the Chevlon fire has reached about 75 acres now, there remains a significant potential for rapid fire growth due to recent drought conditions, combined with abundant fuels in the area. It is currently at 0% containment with two engines and 10 crew responding.
Forest officials decided on Sunday to order a Type 2 Incident Management Team to assist with this fire.
Closures and Evacuations
As of press time, the Chevlon Lake Campground area has been the only evacuation ordered for the fires located near Heber, whereas an emergency area fire closure has been issued for all Coconino, Tonto and Prescott National Forest lands, roads, and trails in the area of the Backbone Fire remain closed. The Fossil Creek recreation area is also closed.
A temporary emergency closure has been implemented around the Horton Complex Fire’s perimeter to protect public health and safety during fire suppression activities.
State Route 260 is closed between Camp Verde and State Route 87 and State Route 87 is closed north of Payson to Clint’s Week. Motorists are advised to visit https://www.az511.com for current road closures before traveling.
Highway 191 is closed between mile marker 201 on the south to mile marker 224.8 (Blue Vista) on the north until further notice.
Smoke from the West Chev Fire Smoke will disperse to the north, northeast and settle into the Chevlon Canyon and local drainages at night and in the early morning.
Smoke from the Wyrick Fire may impact Heber, Chevlon Retreat and surrounding communities.
The communities of Alpine, Nutrioso, Springerville and Eagar could be affected by smoke related to the Horton Complex fire and smoke-sensitive individuals are encouraged to take precautionary measures.
Smoke from the Bear Fire may impact Highway 191 and the Blue River.
An interactive smoke map at https://fire.airnow.gov/ allows you to search for current smoke information.
The public is highly encouraged to follow the Ready Set Go! nationwide program adopted by the 15 Arizona sheriffs in order to be properly educated and prepared for emergency situations.