Poco Fire: Firefighting DC-10 in the air; 1,000 acres burned

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Ryan O'Donnell

Posted on June 15, 2012 at 6:43 AM

Updated Friday, Jun 15 at 12:32 PM

Map: Young, Arizona

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YOUNG and MESA, Ariz. -- Tanker 911, one of the largest firefighting planes in the world, is being deployed over Young Friday to help crews on the ground get a handle on the one-day-old Poco Fire.

The fire started burning Thursday afternoon in the Tonto National Forest about six miles northeast of Young in the mountains of eastern Arizona. The fire spread extremely quickly, growing to an estimated 1,000 acres in just a few hours. Firefighters have no containment at this point and say the growth potential for this fire is high.

The area where it's burning is steep and rugged. Ponderosa pine, shrub and grass are feeding the flames. Fire managers said the fire burned actively overnight, but they have not been able to update acreage numbers yet.

The good news is that no structures are threatened and no evacuations have been ordered. Residents of Christopher Creek and Forest Lakes, however, can see the smoke pouring off the fire.

3TV traffic reporter Gina Maravilla said the westbound side of State Route 260 is closed east of Kohl's Ranch.

Fire managers announced a closure Friday afternoon: "Beginning at the intersection of Forest Road (FR) 291 and FR 512, southerly along the eastern edge of FR 512 to the intersection with FR 200 (Chamberlin Trail), then northerly along the western edge of FR 200 to the intersection with FR 291, then easterly along the northern edge of FR 291 to FR 512."

Ground crews and three single-engine air tankers have already been assigned to the Poco Fire and more resources are on the way. Tanker 911 took off for Young at about 9:30 a.m.

The converted DC-10 passenger plane, Tank 911 can be ready to go in about 20 minutes and can make up to six runs in a single day. The plane carries 12,000 gallons of slurry or water --between six and eight times the capacity of a traditional air tanker -- and can drop a line up to 1 mile long.

Ordered by the U.S. Forest Service, the DC-10 arrived at its temporary base at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport earlier this week and has already been deployed to wildfires burning in New Mexico.

"The Forest Service told us to get here as quickly as possible," said former Marine Corps pilot Rick Hatton, who owns California-based company that operates the DC-10.

This is not the first time Tanker 911, called a VLAT, or very large air tanker, has been in Arizona. It was an essential tool in battling last summer's Wallow Fire, the largest fire in Arizona's history.

The cause of the Poco Fire is under investigation.

Located in Gila County, Young, which is home to fewer than 700 people based on 2010 census data, is about 150 miles northeast of Phoenix and about an hour and 40 minutes from Payson.

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