Wander Fire

Fire causes evacuations, power outages in New River
I-17 shutdown in both directions during peak holiday travel time

By TARA ALATORRE

NEW RIVER – A second-alarm brush fire ignited on the southbound Interstate 17 near New River Road on the afternoon of July 3, shutting down the highway in both directions, causing power outages and forcing residents to evacuate their homes.

At approximately 2 p.m. on July 3, Daisy Mountain Fire and Medical (DMFM) crews arrived on the scene to a fast-moving brush fire in the median, with its flames being driven by the wind. The Wander Fire spread across the freeway to a wash west of the highway, quickly moving uphill and threatening homes, according to fire officials.

Flames from the Wander Fire burning on the median of the southbound I-17 on July 3.
(Photo courtesy of DMFM)

“The fire was quickly upgraded to a second-alarm fire assignment and units from all five of Daisy Mountain fire stations responded,” DMFM’s Public Information Officer Brent Fenton said. “Fire crews evacuated approximately 8-10 residences.”

The Arizona State Forestry deployed aircraft to assist ground crews at the Wander Fire as the winds persisted to pose concerns for firefighters attempting to save the properties the fire was encroaching on.

“The main focus of crews’ efforts were to protect the structures to the west of the I-17, while providing first for life safety and then property conservation,” Fenton said.

APS reported that approximately 1,200 of its customers in New River and Black Canyon City

lost power in the area during the fire, but was it was fully restored in a few hours.

Traffic backed up quickly on the I-17 in New River even before officials shut down the highway in both directions, while crews worked to extinguish a second-alarm brush fire. (Photo by Karen Alexander/Staff)

By 2:30 p.m. the I-17 had been shut down in both directions at milepost 232 by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), forcing commuters to exit on New River Road, according to ADOT’s Twitter.

Although the northbound lanes of I-17 were reopened within an hour, the closure caused heavy backups in the Anthem and New River areas, during what AAA forecast as the worst travel day on the roads for the long Independence Day weekend. Global analytics companies expected drivers nationwide would see delays that were four times the normal commute on July 3 – sans brush fire.

The southbound lanes remained closed at Table Mesa Road until 5:30 p.m., forcing commuters to use alternate routes through Prescott and Payson while firefighters made progress on containing the fire from the air and ground. Northbound traffic was still heavy hours after reopening, according to ADOT.

“There is still miles of heavy backup in the area, so it will take time before traffic begins flowing again,” ADOT tweeted at 5:32 p.m. on July 3.

Overflow traffic in the New River and Anthem area is viewed as a common occurrence by locals, especially during holiday weekends.

However, ADOT plans to start construction in 2021, adding “flex lanes” to the highway from Anthem to Sunset Point, which would help mitigate standstill traffic during incidents like the Wander Fire or bad vehicle collisions.

Units from Phoenix, Peoria, Glendale, Arizona Fire and Medical, Arizona State Forestry, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Public Safety battled the fire for over six hours before it was contained.

Fenton says that “crews worked seamlessly together to mitigate this situation,” and approximately 10.5 acres were burned.

“One structure had some minor fire damage but all structures were saved and there were no injuries reported,” said Fenton.

The cause of the fire is unknown and is not being investigated. Fire officials are urging residents to be fire wise by securing tow chains and not tossing cigarette butts out of your vehicle.

There is also an open burning fire ban in place until September 30 is the Daisy Mountain Fire District.

For more information about fire restrictions visit Maricopa.gov/1830/Burning-Activites.