1,000 Evacuated in Northern Arizona Wildfire

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (CN) — A wildfire burning near the mountain town of Payson, Arizona, grew to more than 11,400 acres Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents.

The Tinder Fire, the first large wildfire of the year, has been burning since about 11:45 a.m. on Friday, April 27. It is zero percent contained. Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency Monday.  The declaration will allow $200,000 from the general fund be used to battle the fire.

More than 690 workers in 15 crews, seven helicopters and 46 fire engines are digging lines in the heavily forested area of Northern Arizona to stop the fire, which fire has caused the partial closure of Highway 87, which connects Payson to Phoenix, about 80 miles away.

The cause of the fire is under investigation; Payson lists it as “human” on its website. Several communities known for their mountain vacation rentals, such as Happy Jack, have been evacuated.

At least 20 homes have burned down in the fire, which grew Sunday night due to windy conditions. There have been no injuries.

While the fire is not contained, infrared data shows it has calmed in intensity.

Firefighters are focused on the east side of the burn, where the grasses, brush and Ponderosa pines that cover Northern Arizona are more susceptible to burning.

Weather forecasts for the rest of the week are promising, with sprinkles, snow and sleet predicted.

“This will be a nice couple days for our firefighters to take advantage of less active fire behavior, and try to get some addition lines cut in, especially on that east side,” said Brian Scott, information officer with Southwest Area Incident Management.

Too much water could work against them, however, increasing travel time.

Payson had its driest winter on record this winter, with just 3.31 inches of precipitation, compared to the average of 12.98, according to the National Weather Service.

The dry winter indicates that the Tinder Fire is the first of what could be a long and arduous fire season.

“Public safety is a top priority and we’re grateful for the first responders who continue to battle the Tinder Fire,” Gov. Ducey said in a statement.

The evacuations will remain in effect until the north and west flanks of the fire are contained, the Town of Payson said on its website early Wednesday.

Here is a link to an interactive fire map.

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