Fire response crews take to the air above Sunflower Fire


by Marie Saavedra

Posted on May 15, 2012 at 6:09 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 15 at 7:09 PM

Sunflower Fire
8,500 acres
21 miles south of Payson
Start date:
May 12, 2012
Grass, chaparral, pinyon pine
Steep, rugged
Total personnel:
Air support:
5 helicopters, 6 air tankers
12 crews, 7 engines, 2 dozers, 2 water tenders
Map: Sunflower Fire

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NEAR PAYSON, Ariz. -- In its fourth day, the Sunflower Fire has made some dramatic changes.

Once more spread out and sparse, Tuesday afternoon's winds and heat made sure of it. The blaze reached the heaviest vegetation yet, sending up thick smoke that could be seen for miles.

The Forest Service said much of the firefight is still in the air and it's launching from the Payson Airport.

"Because the topography is so broken, there's a lot of big canyons out there and there's a lot of wind driven events happening with this fire, so there's a lot of safety to be found in using the aircraft," said Debbie Cress, Public Information for the Sunflower Fire.

For that reason, responders in more helicopters, including pilot Desiree Horton and her crew from Oregon. 

"Right now we're on standby," she said. "We just arrived to this fire so we're waiting for orders from Air Attack to see what their needs are for us."

The team is prepared to fly through sundown, supporting the work of the crew on the ground.

"Not only can we repel guys into the fire line, we have a bucket and long line so we support the fire with water," Horton said.

With winds spreading this fire across the southern end of the range, attacking from the air will likely become it's best offense in keeping the fire within its boundaries.

As of early Tuesday night, the Forest Service reported 8,500 acres burned by the Sunflower Fire in the Tonto National Forest.