July 03, 2004
This photo of the Willow wildfire was taken from Humbolt Mountain Fire Tower. Forest fires in the West are usually named for a geographic feature near the origin of the fire. Willow Springs is deep in the Mazatzal Mountains about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Phoenix and 6 miles southwest of the town of Payson. Lightning in a dry, pre-monsoon thunderstorm on Thursday, June 24 started this fire.
Willow fire was initially allowed to burn because of its remote location and difficult access. So as of July 1, it had grown to roughly 70 square miles (about 43,000 acres). Hot weather (approaching 110°F or 46 C in Phoenix), single digit humidity and gusty winds, largely generated by updrafts in the fire zone, continue to fuel this conflagration.
As of yesterday, nearly 800 fire fighters were battling the blaze. Evacuations were ordered from several ranches in the predicted path of the fire. It's reported that live ponderosa pines on the nearby Mogollon Rim of the Colorado Plateau are drier than cured wood in your neighborhood lumber yard.
A huge and ever-changing mushroom cloud was clearly visible each afternoon from much of the Phoenix metropolitan area, especially northern Scottsdale. The fire is expected to burn until it runs out of fuel or the monsoon rains arrive sometime in July. Fire fighters are trying to contain the fire with forest roads and bulldozed fire breaks. But flying embers easily jump these barriers on the down-wind (lee ) side.