Although abandoned campfires cause plenty of wildfires in the high county, it’s a different story in the desert. Here are six ways you can accidentally start a wildfire.
Fires reported in southeast
Multiple fires have been reported in southeast Arizona. Five of them were “significant,” said Dolores Garcia, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management. Firefighters were battling some of them aggressively because of possible threats to homes and other structures.
Increased winds near the Boundary Fire north of Flagstaff forced a closure of U.S. 180 between mileposts 236 and 248, according to a press release from the U.S. Forest Service.
The multiagency website InciWeb reported that access to the Ten of Diamonds area of the Black River was closed due to the Freeze 2 Fire. The closure includes access points from both Fort Apache Reservation and San Carlos Reservation. The fire is burning on the San Carlos side of the river.
The Antelope Fire, near Kingman, was also being watched closely because of “threats to homes,” Garcia said.
Many of the fires were lightning-caused, though others remain under investigation.
Boundary Fire grows
The Boundary Fire began burning Wednesday afternoon 17 miles northwest of Flagstaff, officials said.
Lightning caused the fire to break out on the northeast side of Kendrick Peak in the Kendrick Mountain Wilderness just before 4:30 p.m.
As of Wednesday evening, the fire had consumed 450 acres and was being fueled by heavy dead and down trees as well as forest debris left from the Pumpkin Fire of 2000, officials said.
The fire was expected to move onto the Kaibab National Forest side of the boundary line within the next several days.
Increased winds are expected over the next few days in the area.
Slim Fire at 3,000 acres
The Slim Fire is burning about 4 miles north of Forest Lakes in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
The lightning-caused fire was reported June 2 and had grown to about 3,000 acres by Wednesday evening, according to officials.
The fire, which was about 16 miles west of Heber, was burning in Ponderosa pine and mixed conifer.
The fire was 30 percent contained Wednesday, with 304 personnel battling the blaze.
The fire is expected to be fully contained by June 30.
Officials said a flight restriction is in effect over the area, which includes drones and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Snake Ridge Fire fully contained
A 15,333-acre wildfire near Happy Jack, southeast of Sedona, was fully contained as of Monday, officials said.
Firefighters began a burnout Sunday morning that they expected would last several days, according to officials.
Burnout activity began around 8 a.m. Sunday as firefighters attempted to contain the fire by mid-week. Crews plan to direct the fire to burn away from property and trail heads for another 15,000 acres for approximately two more weeks.
Smoke drifted toward the northern Arizona communities of Holbrook, Snowflake and Show Low on Sunday and Monday, officials said. Throughout the burnout, smoke was visible from communities along Lake Mary Road, State Routes 87 and 260, and other Verde Valley cities.
The fire ignited due to lightning on May 19 about nine miles northwest of Clints Well, around 10 miles southwest of Happy Jack.
The area around where the fire burned continues to be closed to the public, officials said.
Firefighters secured the perimeter of the Kellogg Fire and turned mop-up operations over to local crews on Friday. The fire burned 780 acres of grasslands near the southeast Arizona town of Sonoita, forcing road closures and evacuations. Two barns were burned in the wind-driven blaze, but evacuations have been lifted and roads have reopened.
“I think our crews got a good handle on it yesterday,” said Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. The evacuations were largely a precaution because the fire was so close to residential areas.
“Anytime you’ve got a wind-driven fire. It can move pretty quick,” Davila said.
Firefighters hoped to see 100 percent containment on the Badger Fire by nightfall, said Dolores Garcia, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Both lanes of Interstate 17 north of Phoenix were open going into the weekend. Garcia said drivers may see some smoke in the area. She encouraged motorists to report smoke if they are unsure where it is coming from.
“We’re going to see, unfortunately, roadside fires, as long as there’s grass along the side of the road,” she said.
A fast-moving brush fire that sparked Thursday afternoon in Sonoita burned about 250 acres within an hour of its start and forced 15 homes to evacuate, officials said.
The Kellogg Fire broke out about 1 p.m. just south of State Route 82 and north of Old Sonoita Highway, the latter of which is closed.
Separately, a brush fire alongside Interstate 17 near Cordes Junction brought traffic to a standstill on northbound lanes Thursday afternoon, officials said. The Badger Fire apparently started when a vehicle broke down and was forced to pull off to the side of the road, sparking dry vegetation about 2 p.m.
The fire, which burned more than 60 acres, was controlled in a few hours and the highway reopened about 4:30 p.m., officials said, after traffic backups reached 8 miles.
— Josiah Destin
Exploding balls fighting blazes
National forest crews have been fighting fire with fire in the last week by dropping combustible spheres that resemble ping-pong balls from helicopters to help control a lightning-caused blaze in Arizona.
The devices are filled with flammable substances that cause them to ignite once they hit the ground. By using the exploding balls, authorities didn’t have to send firefighters into unsafe and remote areas.
“The flammable spheres burn out in a circular pattern on the forest floor, as each circle of fire slowly grows they eventually burn into each other,” said Kaitlyn Webb, a spokesperson for Coconino National Forest.
The fire started on May 19 roughly 8 miles southwest of Happy Jack and has since covered more than 12.5 square miles, Incident Commander trainee Jason McElfresh said.
Authorities expect to soon have the fire contained.
— Associated Press
Restrictions in effect in Prescott National Forest
Fire restrictions will go into effect in Prescott National Forest at 8 a.m. June 1. Campfires and charcoal and wood stoves will only be allowed in developed campsites and recreation sites with metal rings or grills until the ban is lifted.
Smoking is prohibited except in vehicles, buildings or developed recreation sites. Smokers are required to remain in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.
Target shooting is also prohibited under the ban.
Dry, windy conditions and a number of abandoned campfires over the Memorial Day weekend led to the ban, the Forest Service said in a news release.
A wet winter brought relief throughout Prescott National Forest, but the moisture also helped grass grow, and that grass is drying. Tall grass can make fires difficult to control.
For a list of campgrounds where fires and charcoal are allowed, call 928-777-5799 or go to the Prescott Forest website.
Brush fire near Tortilla Flat burns 150 acres
A brush fire that ignited near Tortilla Flat in the early morning May 30 had burned about 150 acres and was about 80 percent contained by midafternoon, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The fire burned close to State Route 88, and the Arizona Department of Transportation shut down a 13-mile stretch of the highway for most of the morning and into the afternoon.
The fire was reported about 6:30 a.m. near Tortilla Flat, said Carrie Templin, a Tonto National Forest spokeswoman.
“The fire is human-caused, but at this time we don’t have any additional information. It is under investigation,” she said.
Firefighters contain Joe’s Hill Fire
Firefighters contained the Joe’s Hill Fire about noon May 29, according to the Daisy Mountain Fire Department.
Six structures were lost in the fire, including a mobile home and storage facilities, the department released.
The fire ignited in Black Canyon City on the afternoon of May 27, was controlled, then jumped containment lines and eventually grew to 50 acres, leading to evacuation orders for about 35 residents.
The evacuation orders in Black Canyon City were lifted on the evening of May 28 as firefighters gained about 50 percent control of the fire that started in a salvage yard Saturday.
The American Red Cross closed the shelter it set up for about 20 people who were forced from their homes, including two people who lost their homes, the organization said.
Those two people, as well as one person who was placed in a hotel for health concerns during the fire, will be provided follow-on services from the Red Cross, the organization said.
Joe’s Hill Fire expands to 50 acres, firefighters working to contain
About 200 firefighters were battling a 50-acre blaze that forced evacuations for about 20 homes in Black Canyon City and destroyed six structures.
The Joe’s Hill Fire broke out again late May 27 in a salvage yard, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
“We’re looking at about 35 residents that have been evacuated,” said Daisy Mountain Fire Chief Mark Nichols.
Officials hope to have the fire suppressed by 6 p.m. May 29, according to The Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
The fire was initially contained by local fire departments, but the Department of Forestry and Fire Management said that the fire started back up under suspicious circumstances later that night.
The cause of the fires is not currently known, and is under investigation according to the department.
“We’re doing an evaluation of the fire right now,” Nichols said.
There have been no additional evacuations and no permanent structures damaged outside of the facility where the fire started, according to the department.
“We’ve lost a couple structures but we don’t have an exact count. We’re thinking we’ve lost up to six,” Nichols said.
Nichols was confident that the firefighters would be successful in their suppression efforts.
“Everything is looking good so far,” he said.
Fire grows to 15 acres overnight; residents evacuated
Just after 11 p.m. May 27 a fire, dubbed the Joe Hill Fire, broke out at the C and S, an auto salvage yard on Smitty Way at Tara Springs Road in Black Canyon City, authorities said.
An initial brush fire in the area had been thought to be extinguished, but continued to burn, affecting the yard.
Crews worked overnight to contain the fire, which was reported to be at 15 acres on the morning of May 28, It was an multi-agency effort, involving about 240 firefighters from Black Canyon, Daisy Mountain, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Phoenix and Glendale fire departments.
Residents in the vicinity were evacuated as a precaution, with a shelter set up at the Canon School near Velda Rose and School Loop roads.
No further excvacuations were expected as of 6 a.m. Sunday, but the Red Cross said they will remain on hand to provide support
Road closures for Pinal Fire expands
The Pinal Fire closure order has been expanded to include portions of three roads and an additional area, authorities said.
The revisions will remain in effect until July 31, or until the Pinal Fire has been mitigated.
– The portion of Forest Road 55, locally known as Russell Road, has been closed from the Tonoto National Forest boundary south to the intersection of Forest Road 652, as well as east to the intersection with Forest Road 112C.
– The portion of Forest Road 157, from the forest boundary south to the intersection with Forest Road 55.
– The portion of Forest Road 112C from the intersection with Forest Road 55 in Kellner Canyon, southeast to the intersection with Forest Road 112 in Icehouse Canyon.
– The portion of national forest land between Forest Road 55 and Forest Road 157, south from the forest boundary to the intersection of the above three roads at Tuxedo Junction.
Brush fire threatens structures in Black Canyon City
A one-acre fire ignited in Black Canyon City on the afternoon of May 27, threatening multiple structures and spreading to a vehicle storage yard, authorities said.
Shortly before 7 p.m., 24 units were on the scene, mostly from Daisy Mountain and Black Canyon fire departments. The fire was near the 21000 block of East Smitty Way.
Spreading Snake Ridge Fire leads to more forest closures
The lightning-caused Snake Ridge Fire had grown to 4,850 acres on May 27 and was still creeping across the forest floor in the Coconino National Forest.
Forest closure areas have been expanded to the north and east of the fire area, which is about nine miles northwest of Clints Well and several miles west of Lake Mary Road.
Smoke is expected to be visible along Lake Mary Road, on state Routes 87 and 260, and in nearby communities and the Verde Valley over the next several days.
Pinal Fire still growing; pre-evacuation order issued
The Pinal Fire burning south of Globe had scorched more than 6,400 acres of land by the morning of May 27.
On Friday, officials issued a precautionary pre-evacuation notice to some residents in the area, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office said.
The notice only affects residents in the Icehouse and Kellner canyons who are south of the Icehouse and Kellner junction, southwest of Globe.
Officials stressed that residents do not need to leave the area at this time, adding that the precautionary notice is because of a change in the fire’s “weather and fuel conditions.”
Local public-safety personnel will go door to door to give residents information about the pre-evacuation procedures, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The Sheriff’s Office said residents should start making preparations now in case an evacuation becomes necessary.
Residents with livestock can choose to shelter their animals at the Burch Sale Yard, officials said, adding that the Phoenix Humane Society would assist in providing shelter for pets if necessary.
More than 600 personnel were working on combating the fire, almost double the number from Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the fire had consumed about 4,300 acres.
The Pinal Fire is the first naturally caused fire to spread through the area in 65 years, starting from a lightning strike on the afternoon of May 8. The fire is being fueled by timber and chaparral in the area, officials said.
Fire officials determined early on to treat the fire as a controlled burn because the area had not burned naturally in so long, while keeping crews in place to prevent it from crossing containment lines.
Residents with questions were asked to call the Pinal Fire Incident Command Center at 928-487-0676.
The Tonto National Forest said the fire was expected to be contained by June 15.
Most drones are operated by hobbyists, but soon, the number of drones in the skies is expected to rise, and that’s putting pressure on local governments to craft regulations.
Authorities issue drone warning
Firefighters spotted four drones flying illegally near the Pinal Fire, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The drones have hindered firefighting operations, prompting the agency to repeat its message that drones are not allowed near wildfires.
When drones are in the area, firefighters ground their aircraft. Helicopters are particularly susceptible to collisions, even with smaller objects, and so it is considered unsafe to fly with a drone in the air.
One drone operator has been cited for flying near the Pinal Fire.
Drone operators who violate the law “may be subject to civil penalties, including fines of up to $25,000, and potentially criminal prosecution,” the agency said in a news release.
The fire, which has burned about 6,418 acres since May 8, is being allowed to burn in some areas but contained in others. Firefighters had to ground a tanker releasing retardant until one of the drone issues was resolved, the Forest Service reported.
Fire restrictions imposed in southeastern Arizona and in the Tonto Forest
Dry conditions have triggered fire restrictions throughout southeast Arizona, including Coronado National Forest, where campfires are banned except in developed campgrounds.
Charcoal fires, smoking, target shooting, welding and smoking are included in the ban, which was announced in a multiagency press release.
Camp stoves are allowed. Fires are allowed in metal fire rings at campgrounds but must be extinguished when you leave the campsite.
The ban also covers a number of national parks and monuments, state lands and the Gila District of the Bureau of Land Management. Although there is no camping where some of the restrictions apply, smoking is restricted to vehicles, buildings, developed recreation sites or barren areas at least 3 feet in diameter clear of all flammable materials.
The national parks and monuments are:
Saguaro National Park
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Coronado National Memorial
Chiricahua National Monument
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Tumacácori National Historical Park
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
State lands in Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties are also under fire restrictions.
Tonto National Forest announced a ban last week.
For more information, go to firerestrictions.us.
Fire restrictions in effect for Tonto Forest
Tonto National Forest has imposed fire restrictions, banning open campfires and other activities that may spark a wildfire.
Rising temperatures have prompted the agency to restrict fires to metal fire rings in developed campsites, which means campers in undeveloped areas must use stoves, lanterns and heating devices.
The agency has also banned welding equipment, chain saws, or “operating combustion engines without spark-arresting devices,” the agency said in a press release.
Target shooting is prohibited while the restrictions are in place. Hunting is allowed. Fireworks and explosives are prohibited year-round. Exploding targets and tracer rounds are illegal on public lands.
Smoking is prohibited except within an enclosed vehicle or building, or at a developed recreation site as long as butts are not tossed on the ground.
With temperatures climbing, grasses and leaves are drying out and the fire danger is rising, the agency said.
For more information on fire restrictions, call 602-225-5200, or go to the Tonto Forest’s website.
6 ways people start wildfires
Every weekend, people abandon dozens of campfires on public lands. And every year, some of those campfires spark forest fires — some serious, some not — that could have been prevented.
Although abandoned campfires cause plenty of wildfires in the high county, it’s a different story in the desert.
The Forest Service only keeps track of two causes of fire, lightning and human caused, so the agency doesn’t have hard numbers on the types of human-caused fires, said Carrie Templin of Tonto National Forest. But the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management say desert wildfires frequently start on Arizona’s highways.
10 of the biggest wildfires since 2002
Today’s wildfires are bigger than they once were. That’s no guarantee that this fire season will be bigger than the last, but in 2002, when the Rodeo-Chediski fire burned about 468,638 acres, Arizona got a glimpse of what a century of fire suppression, climate change and a spark can lead to.
High Country News reports that not only are large wildfires more common, but the fire season is also longer.
Here is a look at Arizona’s 10 biggest blazes since 2002.
Crews battle fires near Nogales, Globe
Two wildfires burning in parts of Arizona were not posing an immediate threat to any residents and at least one was being allowed to continue burning, according to officials.
The Peña Fire had burned about 300 acres of mostly grass and brush as of Tuesday night in an area south of Peña Blanca Lake west of Nogales, Coronado National Forest officials said.
The second major fire was burning about 6 miles south of Globe, west of State Route 77, in the Pinal Mountains.
The Pinal Fire was caused by lightning on May 8, according to Tonto National Forest officials.
It had burned about 206 acres as of Tuesday and was zero percent contained, but crews were working the fire as a natural prescribed burn to help prevent future fires, noting the area had not experienced a fire since 1952, when 36 lightning strikes were recorded, said Andrew Mandell, incident commander.
Setting small fires to prevent the big ones
For the past decade, Coconino National Forest has burned between about 8,000 to 22,000 acres each year with prescribed fires. The cost of a controlled burn is in the thousands of dollars.
Wildfire costs — manpower, home damage, rehabilitation, property value and other costs — run into the millions.
And prescribed burns can help restore forest health after decades of fire suppression.
Old Bisbee fire burns at least 6 structures
Authorities say at least six structures have been lost after a wind-whipped fire in Bisbee.
The fire had burned little more than five acres and was contained overnight.
Although about 50 people were evacuated Monday evening during the firefight, no overnight shelters were needed, according to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office.
No injuries were reported.
Father of Granite Mountain hotshot hopes to move one of the team’s buggies to a museum
Two buggies used by the Granite Mountain Hotshots have been put up for sale, and the father of one of the fallen firefighters hopes to turn one of the vehicles into a memorial.
Joe Woyjeck, a retired fire captain and volunteer at the Los Angeles County Fire Museum, said he would like to bring one of the buggies to the museum, to honor the 19 firefighters who died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013.
The buggies were used to transport the hotshots to fire scenes and were in Yarnell June 30, the day the Yarnell Hill Fire killed all but one of the elite firefighters.
Woyjeck said his son, Kevin, spent a lot of time in the fire museum while he was growing up.
“All three of my children were in the museum pretty much from the time they could walk,” Joe Woyjeck said.
The Daily Courier in Prescott reported that, in addition to the buggies, the city of Prescott would like to sell Fire Station 7, where the hotshots were based.
Woyjeck said he was focused on the buggies and did not know what might happen to the fire station.
“We want to make sure at least one of the buggies is in our collection … and is treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
Although the museum will have the final say, Woyjeck said he envisions having a plaque or seat assigned to each firefighter in the back of the buggy. He also envisions a place where people can leave letters for the fallen hotshots.
Woyjeck said he expects to hear soon on the museum’s bid.
“There’s no agenda involved other than honoring those 19 firefighters. … We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
READ MORE: Complete coverage of Arizona wildfires
Includes information from Arizona Republic reporters Robert Gundran and Adrian Marsh.
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