Photos: Hikers, hunters watch as Sunflower Fire burns through popular area


by Marie Saavedra

Posted on May 15, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 15 at 11:16 AM

Sunflower Fire
Start date:
May 12, 2012
21 miles south of Payson
Grass, chaparral, Pinyon pine
Steep, rugged
Total personnel:
9 crews, 14 engines, 6 air tankers, 5 helicopters
Map: Sunflower Fire

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SUNFLOWER, Ariz. -- The Forest service says 4,600 acres have now burned north of the town of Sunflower in the Tonto National Forest.

In three days, the Sunflower fire has burned through thousands of acres, and it continues with flames working their way through the southern end of the Matazal Mountains.

It was something Scottsdale resident Wade Nelson had to see for himself.

"These guys have their work cut out for them, because it's incredibly rugged county," said Nelson.

He would know. Smoke covers not only where he's hiked and hunted, but for a while, this was his office.

"I spent 14 years with the sheriff's office, 10 years on the rescue team and four years as a helicopter EMT. So this was my first area. This is my backyard," he said.

Throughout the day crews in the air and on the ground worked to contain the fire, fueled by winds that won't let up.

"This afternoon, as it did yesterday afternoon, that wind is going to shift out of the west," said Dave Killebrew, with the Tonto National Forest. "That is really playing havoc with fighting the fire."

The forest service said protecting homes in Sunflower, and keeping the flames away from power lines and Highway 87 are the priorities.

Nelson's keeping a close eye on their progress out of curiosity and his own love of the land.

"Biologists say that it's good and we need it periodically, but you know this ground so well and this area so well; it's unfortunate to see it burn."