Contributed Photo: The Mescal Fire has grown to nearly 8,000 acres.
Smoke closes Highway 70
By Jon Johnson
SAN CARLOS APACHE RESERVATION – The Mescal Fire grew to 7,903 acres as of Saturday morning with 5 percent containment listed. The fire is being fought by a Type 2 Incident Management Team, which is overseeing roughly 402 personnel.
Smoke, perhaps from the Mescal Fire and/or the smaller Sam Fire burning northwest of Bylas poured into the Gila Valley on Saturday and pushed into the Black Hills toward Greenlee County. Even so, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality listed the air quality for Graham and Greenlee counties as being “good” while Gila County was listed as “moderate.”
Brush fires have forced the closure of three Arizona highways, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
U.S. Highway 70 is closed in both directions on the San Carlos Reservation. The closure is between State Route 170 and Fort Thomas River Road (milepost 302).
State Routes 77 and 177 are closed as well.
SR 77 is closed in both directions between the SR 177 junction in Winkelman and U.S. 70.
SR 177 is closed in both directions between the SR 77 junction in Winkelman and U.S. Highway 60 in Superior.
There are no estimated reopening times.
The Gila County Sheriff’s Office announced an evacuation for residents in the El Capitan area east of Route 77 between mile markers 155 and 161 on Friday. On Saturday, Operations Section Chief Manuel Martinez said a group was created Saturday to concentrate on the El Capitan area to help protect the values in that community.
The following communities are in “Go” and evacuation orders have been issued:
• Soda Canyon
• Residents of El Capitan living on the east side of State Route 77
The following communities are in “SET” and should get prepared and alert for updates:
• Coyote Flats
• Peridot South
• Lower Peridot
• Skill Center
• T11 Ranch
• Beverly Hills
Additionally, San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler closed lands west of Route 3 of Old San Carlos Road and south to the reservation border. Rambler advised the closure was for the safety of Tribal members and those who want to recreate at San Carlos Lake.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has closed State Route 77, between Winkelman and U.S. Highway 70, due to smoke and to allow firefighters to travel to and work safely in the area.
Martinez advised on Saturday that they have sent heavy equipment and crews to the west to create firing operations to square up the fire.
“All that effort is because of the Skill Center, Coyote Flats values, and the communities of Peridot and San Carlos. So, we’re going to try to keep everything south of 600 Road. That way we’re not impacting those communities.”
The fire began roughly 16 miles southeast of Globe on June 1 and its cause is still under investigation. High winds have pushed the fire to the southwest and west and it is burning grass, brush, and Chaparral.
The Sam Fire began June 3 and has grown to 477 acres as of Saturday morning, with 80 percent containment.
It is burning desert brush, oak, and grass and is being fought by a crew of about 40. Crews are working to possible full containment by Sunday.
A red flag warning is in effect, with possible wind gusts of up to 45 mph, so do not perform any controlled burns.