Sunflower Fire explodes to 12,000 acres

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

SUNFLOWER, Ariz.-- The fire that started slow and sparse on Saturday has now exploded to 12,000 acres.

Wind gusts of more than 30 mph contributed to the Sunflower Fire, where crews are already battling the heat, low humidity, and nearly impossible terrain. The fire gobbled unburned fuel, both within the fire and outside of it to the north and west, according to officials.

The fire is 7 percent contained and remained in its containment lines.

The Beeline Highway and a nearby power line remained protected, and Payson to the north is also in the clear, although ash was reported to have fallen in town, earlier in the day.

More than 400 people have reported to Incident Command to help battle the blaze that's chewing through Tonto National Forest. Those crews are from Arizona and New Mexico, as well as California, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Texas and Oregon. Resources are split pretty evenly among air and ground.

"We definitely have a lot of personnel out there on the ground," public information officer Debbie Cress said. "There are several engines that are stationed at different points along those dirt roads where they can get access."

The fire has already reached lines to the north established by the Willow Fire in 2004. When it fully reaches the old fire line, the blaze should slow its progression.

It's a hard thing to watch, even for some Valley residents.

"I've done a lot of backpacking up in the Mazatzals," Mesa resident Steve Sowards said. He watched the fire burn from on top of Mt. Ord. "The trails aren't well manicured so I do not envy the firefighters at all. It's a nasty, nasty area... It's going to take a long time for it to heal."

Winds are expected to be slightly calmer on Wednesday.

The Sunflower Fire is burning about 80 mile northeast of Phoenix.