Bylas wildfire closes U.S. Highway 70 near bridge

Contributed Photo: The Bylas wildfire forced the closure of U.S. Highway 70 at about 10 a.m. on Monday after heavy winds shifted the blaze toward the Bylas Bridge.

San Carlos Apache Tribe issues a pre-evacuation notice for residents living near the Gila River

By Jon Johnson

BYLAS – Heavy winds have shifted the wildfire running along the Gila River riverbed in Bylas toward the Bylas Bridge, causing the closure of U.S. Highway 70. 

A 20-mile stretch of the highway, from milepost 295 to milepost 275, was closed from about 10 a.m. to around 8 p.m. The highway has now reopened.

The fire initially started Saturday, June 8, and has consumed more than 300 acres while burning along the riverbed. There is no official cause for the fire, but it is most likely human-caused.

Photo By San Carlos Southwest Wildland Fire Fighters: The wildfire in Bylas has spread to more than 300 acres.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, the highway was closed due to fire from BIA105 to Yellowjacket Road. The closure came into effect at 9:57 a.m. Calva Road going around the lake is also reportedly closed by the San Carlos Police Department. Later in the day as the fire progressed, the closure encompassed a 20-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 70 between mileposts 295 and 275.

As per ADOT, westbound traffic was detoured by taking U.S. Highway 191 south to I-10 west. Eastbound traffic was detoured by taking SR 60 east to SR 77 south (which becomes Miracle Mile in Tucson) to I-10 east. The Safford Police Department released a statement saying the highway would be closed for the remainder of the day with ADOT assessing the bridge and highway on Tuesday before reopening it. However, the highway reopened Monday night.

According to a release from the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Tribal Emergency Response Commission issued a pre-evacuation notice Monday for Ready To Go and Navajo Point residents living near the Gila River due to the fire. 

The San Carlos Police Department is monitoring the situation and will notify the public though public service announcements and social media if an evacuation order is issued. Anyone with questions about the pre-evacuation notice can call 928-475-2311. 

Additionally, the American Red Cross is also monitoring the situation and is preparing to assist as well. 

Contributed Photo: A GCEC crew works on a utility pole in Bylas. A three-phase, 7,200-volt line was de-energized and will possibly be lost to the fire.

According to a witness at the scene, helicopter air drops have commenced in an effort to quell the blaze and Graham County Electric Cooperative staff shut down electricity from utility poles in the area.

The Southwest Coordination Center reported a Type-3 incident team is being organized and Type 2 and Type 3 aircraft have also been assigned to the yet unnamed fire. 

GCEC General Manager/CEO Kirk Gray said they de-energized a three-phase, 7,200-volt section of line that crosses the Gila River near the Bylas Bridge and that it looked as if the line would likely be lost to the fire. Gray said the line feeds water pumps for agriculture fields and that residential power in Bylas is operational and should stay that way.

“The last I heard it doesn’t look too good,” Gray said. “We’ll probably lose that section of line because it’s pretty bad down there.”

Photo By San Carlos Southwest Wildland Fire Fighters: The wildfire in Bylas burning at the Bylas Bridge.

Another power line, a single-phase that crosses the Gila River off Calva Road, feeds a Federal Aviation Administration site for the Safford Regional Airport but is currently not in danger. 

Gray said GCEC has worked on clearing brush along its lines that cross the river to mitigate fire issues. 

“It doesn’t look too promising, but it is what it is,” Gray said. “The big problem is when we have to rebuild line like that we have to go in and push in a road so we can get in there to set poles. But that’s the way it is. That’s what we have to deal with.” 

Photo By San Carlos Southwest Wildland Fire Fighters: The wildfire has grown to more than 300 acres.