Bear attacks woman in tent near Payson; campground closed

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by Jennifer Thomas

Video report by Jared Dillingham

Posted on May 31, 2012 at 9:10 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 1 at 5:41 PM

Map: Ponderosa Campground

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PAYSON, Ariz. -- A 74-year-old woman was injured in a bear attack near Payson Thursday morning and officials are trying to track down the animal.

The Arizona woman, her husband and their dog were sleeping at Ponderosa Campground in the Tonto National Forest when the bear ripped a hole in their tent at about 4:30 a.m.

The bear reportedly stuck its head in and clawed at the woman, leaving her with bruises and a laceration on her scalp, according to Jim Paxon, information chief with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"While the campers were with the campground host and medical personnel, the bear came back to the tent a second time, ripped another hole in it, and then went after a pillow that had blood on it from the woman's wounds," Paxon said in a news release.

The woman was treated at Payson Regional Medical Center for non life-threatening injuries and released. Her husband and dog were not hurt. 

Paxon said a large adult bear had recently been seen hanging around the campsite Dumpsters.

A Game and Fish wildlife manager visited the campground Wednesday looking for the bear, but it was not found. A culvert-style trap was set. The wildlife manager talked to the campground host about precautions and all campers were informed of the bear threat.

Paxon said the bear returned to the campground sometime during the night. The campground host chased the bear, which retreated, but it returned a short time later and attacked the campers in their tent.

Game and Fish officers and personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services are using dogs to track the bear. Officials have evacuated campers and temporarily closed the campground.

"Public safety is our first priority," Paxon said. "This bear poses a threat to public safety and therefore needs to be lethally removed."

Paxon said bears are very active during the summer and are attracted to trash bins and campsites.

"The bear was probably looking for food, which is scarce this summer because of drought," Paxon said. "These campers secured their food in the cab of their truck, and there was no food in the tent.

Although bear attacks on humans are rare, this was the second one in Arizona in less than a year.

Lana Hollingsworth, of Gilbert, died after she was attacked by a bear last June. Her son said the black bear essentially scalped his mother as she walked her dog outside her vacation home in Pinetop.

Hollingsworth died of a massive brain hemorrhage. Doctors believe an unknown bacteria, possibly from the bear's claws, sparked an infection that they could not control. The theory is that the rampant infection might have caused the hemorrhage.

"Whether folks live here or are just visiting, they need to remember this is bear country," Paxon said.

The Ponderosa Campground is located just off Highway 260 about 10 miles east of Payson.

Tonto National Forest officials have closed the campground. Lower Tonto Creek/Bear Flat/Forest Road 405A have also been closed to entry. The closure order is effective until Aug. 31, unless rescinded sooner.

The campground closure area is bounded by the junction of Highway 260 and Forest Road 405-A, south to Forest Road 893 continuing south on FR 893 until its junction with Forest Trail 37, then south on Trail 37 to the Hellsgate Wilderness boundary line, then northeast along the Wilderness boundary line to FR 405 and north along FR 405 to its junction with Hwy 260, then south to its junction with Forest Road 405-A.  
 
The following roads in this area are closed:  FR 405-A, FR 405, FR 893, FR 1625, and Forest Trail 37.

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