Arizona Wildfire Forces Brief Evacuation

A 90-acre fire forced the evacuation of about 85 homes east of Payson for several hours Wednesday.


TONTO VILLAGE, Ariz. (AP) -- A 90-acre fire forced the evacuation of about 85 homes east of Payson for several hours Wednesday.

The two Thompson Draw subdivisions were evacuated midday Wednesday along with a summer camp, said Emily Garber, a spokeswoman for the crew fighting the fire.

The fire was fully contained by Wednesday night and residents were allowed back into the subdivisions, said Gila County Sheriff John Armer.

``They are all allowed back in and they have started to return,'' Armer said.

Air crews also were released and the remaining firefighters were focusing on the hot spots, Garber said.

More than 80 homes are in the area but it wasn't clear how many people had to evacuate since some of the houses are seasonal and not all were occupied, said Ron Christensen, vice chairman of the Gila County Board of Supervisors.

School buses also evacuated 136 children from a nearby church camp, Christensen said.

``It's a scary situation for a lot of people because they haven't done this before,'' he said. ``The smoke clouds are very intimidating to be looking at and make it very hard to tell how far the actual fire is.''

An evacuation center for residents also was set up by the Red Cross at Rim Country Middle School.

Pre-evacuation notices were issued in the Christopher Creek, Kohl's Ranch and Bear Flat communities. There are 155 homes in Kohl's Ranch and about 100 in Bear Flat, Christensen said.

Officials were also concerned about the fire's proximity to Tonto Village and an Arizona Public Service Co. utility line, Garber said.

The fire appeared, however, to be moving away from the electric transmission system, said Damon Gross, an APS spokesman. The blaze was one to two miles from the transmission line.

Another APS line did burn, causing loss of power and telephone use from Highway 260 through several communities, including Young, Garber said.

The fire, first reported by a Forest Service lookout midday Wednesday, forced the closure of Highway 260 between Star Valley, directly east of Payson, and Heber, 40 miles away. It reopened Wednesday evening after being closed several hours.

The fire burned primarily in ponderosa pine trees and was largely wind-driven, Garber said.

Fire officials immediately put five large air tankers on the blaze and four smaller ones. The fire had spotted north of the highway, but Garber said crews were able to catch those spots and keep the fire south of Highway 260.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.