Mon, July 22

Wildfire season explodes in Arizona

Smoke from the human-caused Gladiator Fire near Crown King is blanketing the Verde Valley.

Smoke from the human-caused Gladiator Fire near Crown King is blanketing the Verde Valley.

Raging fire is a sharp reminder for residents to quickly clear a defensible space around their homes as fire season got an early kick start this weekend.

Four major wildfires are already burning in central Arizona. One of the largest is here in the Prescott National Forest. Smoke from the fires is blanketing the Verde Valley and local fire crews are heading out to help.

The human-caused Gladiator Fire got its start when two structures caught fire and burned on Gladiator Mine Road, near Crown King about 11 a.m. Sunday, igniting the adjacent pine forest. By 5 p.m., mandatory evacuations were announced for the community of Crown King and Red Cross shelter established at Mayer High School.

By 9 p.m., it was announced that the fire was not directly threatening the town, but the blaze had overrun Crown King Road and all access was by alternative routes. A crew from Verde Valley Fire was slowed by that road closure.

On Monday, the fire was reported at 1,700 acres and Southwest Area Type-1 Incident Management Team, headed by Incident Commander Joe Reinarz, was assigned management of the fire.

A call was put out for wild land interface capable engines (Type-3) and Verde Valley sent a crew to the blaze Monday night. Battalion Chief Jayson Coil of Sedona Fire is part of that Reinarz' Incident Management Team.

Besides Crown King, the blaze initially threatened some residents in Horsethief Basin. Forest Service campgrounds, lookout towers, communications sites on Tower Mountain, power lines and historic sites could also be jeopardized.

Foresters warn that dryer weather conditions and strong erratic winds that are forecast may complicate suppression.

The U.S. Forest Service says the fire is now moving north away from Crown King.

A community meeting was announced to bring together firefighters and citizens at Mayer High School Tuesday evening.

The Verde Valley's Immediate Response Team, formed from units from Cottonwood, Sedona, Camp Verde and Verde Valley, was dispatched to help Central Yavapai Fire with the Dewey Fire, but that fire was quickly controlled at 50 acres and they were released.

Arizona's largest wildfire, the Sunflower Fire, has burned through 4,600 acres. The fire was reported Saturday at 10:24 a.m. It is burning in piñon, juniper, and grass about one mile west of SR 87 in the Sunflower area, south of Payson. Now 280 personnel are committed as part of a Type-2 Incident Management Team. The fire is burning in steep and rugged terrain .

The Bull Flat Fire is a 500-acre brush and grass fire on the Fort Apache Agency. It is now 35 percent contained.

The Elwood fire is 1,137 acres burning timber on the San Carlos Agency,

School Canyon Fire-which flared on the Arizona/Mexico border May 8, is now contained.

The entire fire site received significant precipitation May 9. Fire reached 7,049 acres in the United States and another 2,000 acres in Mexico. Engines are monitoring the fire. In Kingman, 80 acres burned on the edge of the city in the Slaughterhouse Fire.

The first phase of fire restrictions went into effect Tuesday in Yavapai County. Those restrictions prohibit open flame and campfire in Yavapai County and the Prescott Forest and went into effect Tuesday at noon.

The same restrictions are effective in Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto forests Wednesday at 8 a.m., and on BLM land Friday, May 18.

"We usually try to hold off restrictions until after Memorial Day, but the conditions are too ripe to wait," says Cottonwood Fire Chief Mike Casson.

Charcoal and barbecue grills are permitted if they are enclosed and have screened covers. On forest land, fires are allowed only within developed campgrounds with fire rings.

Gas or petroleum fueled grills are exempted.

Fireworks are always prohibited in Cottonwood and most other Verde Valley cities and towns, but also expressly prohibited in unincorporated Yavapai County.

Outdoor equipment that produces a spark, like chainsaws and welders, are also prohibited unless with a special permit.