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Thu, Aug. 22

Three other fires keep firefighters busy

Fires, and rumors of fires, dominated local news for the last 10 days.

Besides the Sunset Point Fire along Interstate 17, two other major fires and one small fire burned land belonging to the Bureau of Land Management, Arizona State Land Department and Prescott National Forest.

The major fire burning east of Black Canyon City became known as the Lousy Canyon Fire, because of its proximity to Lousy Canyon and Lousy Creek.

The major fire burning west of BCC and Horse Thief Basin, south of Crown King, became known as the Humbug Fire, after Humbug Creek, just on the other side of the Maricopa County line.

Both fires, besides bracketing BCC, also hung on either side of the Yavapai-Maricopa county line.

A smaller, 36-acre fire flamed to within two miles of tiny Cleator, before PNF firefighters brought it under control.

Recurring rumors of other fires turned out to be false or based on drifting smoke from the other three fires.

The Lousy Canyon Fire, still burning at press time, began on June 23 and, according to Cliff Pearlberg, incident information officer at the Arizona State Land Department, consumed more than 2,800 acres prior to the weekend.

The burned area so far, all on the eastside of I-17, ranges from the southern edge of the Sunset Point Fire to surrounding BLM land.

"Thursday morning," said Black Canyon Fire Chief Tom Birch, "We saw all this smoke in the sky to the east of town and it was, 'Oh no, here we go again."

Although the fire continues to burn northeast and away from BCC, Birch said he remains concerned that a sustained westerly wind could position the fire for a run down Canyon Creek, gathering speed as it neared town.

"Jeff Brown, the initial (fire) attack team leader for BLM, was very attentive when we talked to him about our concerns.

"We know the terrain around here. At one point, early on, I called him and pointed out that the plan of attack had some holes in it, based on knowing that area. Jeff Brown and his type III team were very open to BCFD input."

Type III teams, like Brown's, handle small fires in their early stage.

On June 24, fire managers handed control of the attack to the Whitney Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team, under Incident Commander Jeff Whitney.

Type 1 teams are multi-agency organizations which handle management of very large fires.

This move consolidated control of the very large Cave Creek Fire, Lousy Canyon Fire to the northwest of Cave Creek and the much smaller Broad Fire to the west of Cave Creek.

Under Whitney's consolidated command, more than 900 firefighting and support personnel took on a combined 92,145-acre fire, which they're now calling the Cave Creek Complex Fire.

The Humbug Fire, now under control, began with a lightning strike during the night of June 23 or early June 24.

According to Debbie Maneely, PNF spokeswoman, fire managers gave the initial attack to PNF.

With wildfire fighting personnel and equipment stretched to the limits and very difficult terrain in the fire path, only aerial support worked for the first hours of the blaze.

"We had one heavy air tanker, three single-engine air tankers and four helicopters," said Maneely.

While tankers dropped their loads to slow the fire, Hot Shot rough terrain firefighters streamed in from Wolf Creek, Ore., Rouge River, Ore. and Heber InterAgency in Arizona's White Mountains.

Because of the steep and rugged terrain and the lack of a high-speed avenue of approach, Hot Shot crews arrived via helicopter and began work on the north and south flanks of the fire.

That night, tired firefighters had to sleep where they were, because of the isolated fire site.

With the aid of Yavapai County Sheriff's Posse, fire managers evacuated Horsethief Basin Recreational Area and the surrounding homes.

During June 25, the fire, with hot winds driving it, jumped to 3,000 acres and crept to within six miles of Crown King.

Later that day, fire managers brought in Dan Oltrogge and his Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team.

Oltrogge, incident commander, and his team ran the operation out of headquarters in BCC.

PNF Bradshaw District Ranger Ernie Del Rio warned if the fire got into Jones Gulch or Copper Basin, Crown King residents must evacuate via Yavapai County Road 59.

Later, Oltrogge agreed that YC59 presented the fastest escape route, but tempered that by saying, "There's probably not a more rugged or remote piece of ground in Arizona."

Oltrogge's team, along with 80 Hot Shot crew members and aerial support, made that tough option moot when they brought the fire from zero percent containment to 100 percent in the course of 48 hours.

"We don't anticipate it spreading from the current 3,400 acres, where it's been since 6 p.m. Friday," Oltrogge told Crown King residents during a meeting Saturday.

Meanwhile, thousands of dead pine trees remain in the area around Crown King.

"We can't afford to remove them," said Del Rio, pointing out that residents won't even take stacks of free cut up pine near town.

Del Rio told residents at that same meeting, ". . . We need your help. You've got to protect yourself by clearing out overgrown brush around homes. And it's not a one-time shot. You've got to maintain it."

Those seeking more information about breaking fire news in Yavapai County may visit www.regionalinfo-alert.org.

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