By Pete Aleshire | Payson Roundup
Now, here’s how weird things are this year. When lightning started a fire north of Strawberry this week — the Forest Service decided to let it burn.
For the past few years, firefighters, air tankers and water-dropping helicopters starting in May have raced to snuff any hint of a fire, for fear tinder-dry brush and sweltering temperatures will quickly produce another fire like the Wallow or the Rodeo-Chediski.
But Rim Country received four times its normal rainfall in May, with El Niño driven storms and cool temperatures continuing on into June. Although the Forest Service, Payson and Gila County have all banned outdoor fires, smoking and target shooting outside of established campgrounds, the fire danger remains moderate.
As a result, Coconino National Forest fire managers since Saturday have let the Horse Tank Fire atop the Rim six miles north of Strawberry burn through dead and down forest litter, small underbrush and pine needles. The fire has grown to just 35 acres. Fire managers plan to let it burn within a 2,000-acre area, unless the weather changes.