Firefighters making slow, steady progress containing River Fire in Tonto Forest


NEW RIVER – The River Fire that sparked last week on the evening of September 3, has ravaged 7,772 acres, including New River Mesa, in the Tonto National Forest. United States Forest Service officials estimate that the fire is about 35 percent contained (at the time this was written on Sept. 9).

The lightning-caused fire is not a danger to surrounding communities and is burning about four miles east of New River, seven miles north of Cave Creek and 14 miles east of Black Canyon City. It has not grown in the last 24 hours, but continues to be challenging for firefighters, stated Tonto National Forest Service’s Public Affairs Officer, Carrie Templin, in an email to The Foothills Focus on the afternoon of September 9.

“Challenges include steep rugged terrain, lack of road access, thick layer of grass that burns rapidly because of our wet winter and spring.  Other factors also included excessive heat warnings and afternoon thunderstorms which made it unsafe for firefighters to be on top of the Mesa because of outflow winds pushing fire in different directions, and the unpredictability of being able to pick them up by helicopter to get them off the Mesa during a storm,” Templin stated in the email.

Tonto National Forest Service’s Public Affairs Officer, Carrie Templin
Pictured: An aerial view of the River Fire burning on September 4, in the Tonto National Forest on New River Mesa.
(Photo courtesy of the Tonto National Forest)

The River Fire continues to burn northeast away from communities and structures, towards Forest Road 41, (also known as Table Mountain Road) on its northern edge and Forest Road 17 on the eastern boundary.

“Firefighting crews continue to patrol and mop-up along the fire edge, especially along FR 41 and FR 17.  Cooler weather and higher relative humidity are aiding firefighting efforts,” Templin said this Monday.

The fire grew rapidly on September 4, spreading from 100 acres to 1,800 acres. A total of 56 personnel have been assigned to the River Fire, including additional resources from Bureau of Land Management and medics from Daisy Mountain Fire and Medical, according to the Tonto National Forest.

Tonto Forest officials say that conditions made it extremely unsafe for firefighters to be on top of New River Mesa because outflow winds were pushing the fire in different directions, making it unpredictable for crews. Also helicopters could not reliably pick up firefighters off the mesa.
(Photo courtesy of the Tonto National Forest)

While infrastructures and homes are not at risk, officials closed Forest Road 41 for public and firefighter safety after the fire grew approximately 1,000 acres overnight on September 5, and it remains closed.

Templin says locals in the area should be aware of the Table Mountain Road closure, which is from the boundary of the Tonto National Forest near the Interstate 17, to the west of the fire, across the forest to the intersection with Forest Road 24 (Seven Springs Road) on the eastern side of the fire’s perimeter.

Fire and smoke could be seen from New River, Anthem, Desert Hills, Cave Creek, Carefree and Black Canyon City, and Tonto Forest fire managers coordinated with local emergency response agencies, sharing updated information as it became available.

The map shows the River Fire’s perimeter, which is shaded in red, as of September 9. (Map courtesy of the Tonto National Forest)

Despite additional engines, helicopters and firefighters, the River Fire’s activity increased on September 6, due to high heat and winds from storms.

“Fire crews worked through the night, conducting burnout operations ahead of the fire in an attempt to contain the fire south of Forest Road 41,” Templin stated in a press release on September 6. “Preventing fire movement off of New River Mesa to the west, south and southeast remain a top priority.”

By September 7, fire officials had reported that the River Fire had grown to 6,880 acres, but within planned containment lines. Also, crews were able to hold the fire between forest roads 41 and 17 on the northeast side of the perimeter, and performed extended burnout operations to reinforce containment lines.

An aerial view of the River Fire on September 7 shows reduced activity.
(Photo courtesy of the Tonto National Forest)

Templin added that the southern and western areas of the fire remained mostly quiet and was being closely monitored by firefighters. However, the smell of smoke, visible smoke settling in washes and the glow of the fire in the evening may still be visible to North Valley residents.

On September 8, Tonto National Forest tweeted that there was reduced activity and a “few pockets of smoke remain visible within the fire’s interior. Crews continue to hold and monitor containment lines.”

For the most up-to-date information visit the Tonto National Forest’s social media pages. Or call the Cave Creek Ranger District at 480-595-3300.

Helicopters assisting with suppression efforts at the River Fire.