Arizona Wildfires

A firefighter directs his crew during a backburn operation to fight the Wallow Fire in Nutrioso, Ariz., Friday, June 10, 2011. A massive wildfire in eastern Arizona that has claimed more than 30 homes and forced nearly than 10,000 people to evacuate is likely to spread into New Mexico soon, threatening more towns and possibly endangering two major power lines that bring electricity from Arizona to West Texas. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Marcio Jose Sanchez

The East Valley is once again playing a major role in the effort to fight wildfires in the state.

The Gateway Tanker Base located at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is up and running with wildfire season officially under way in Arizona. So far, there are three air tankers flying out of the facility, part of the Phoenix Interagency Fire Center, according to spokesman Doug Anderson. They were on the ground Friday afternoon because the winds were picking up, he said. But they had flown earlier in the day to help with the Gladiator fire.

At least four major wildfires have been burning in the state, including the Sunflower fire which had charred at least 14,500 acres south of Payson, and the Gladiator fire, which had grown to 10,000 acres.

According to the Incident Information System, or InciWeb, that is tracking the Arizona fires, air tankers were in use last Thursday at the Gladiator Fire.

During last year’s Wallow Fire, the largest in state history, one of the only DC-10s designed to fight fires was brought to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

“Phoenix-Mesa Gateway is a hub when we’re fighting fire with air resources,” said Paige Rockett, a spokeswoman for the Tonto National Forest.

According to fire updates, crews had seven helicopters and six air tankers available for use on the Sunflower fire.

The plane, which can hold 12,000 gallons of retardant, came in from California.

Fire restrictions were put into place last Wednesday by the Tonto National Forest. No fires, campfires or charcoal-burning devices are allowed. Smoking is only allowed in developed campgrounds, vehicles or buildings.

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