Paving on Interstate 40 west of Williams begins Monday

WILLIAMS – To address the beating a section of Interstate 40 just west of Williams has taken over many winters, the Arizona Department of Transportation will begin reconstructing five miles of roadway in both directions on Monday, July 24.

The $34 million project, which will start with the eastbound direction between mileposts 156 and 161, will literally rebuild the roadway from the ground up, including laying a new foundation.

Drivers heading east on I-40 toward Williams and Flagstaff will cross the median on a temporary road and share lanes with westbound I-40 traffic through the project area, with one lane of travel in each direction. Drivers should slow down and budget for extra travel time.

Crews will rebuild the westbound side of the interstate next summer.

ADOT is currently repaving 12 miles of I-40 in each direction closer to Flagstaff between mileposts 179 and 191. The $13.9 million project, which is about halfway complete, includes minor bridge repairs at the Bellemont, A-1 Mountain and Riordan overpasses as well as new guardrail.

Drivers should use caution and watch for construction personnel and equipment while paving is underway.

Schedules are subject to change based on weather and other unforeseen factors. For more information, please call Coralie Cole, ADOT senior community relations officer, at 602.501.4899 or email: ccole@azdot.gov. For real-time highway conditions statewide, visit ADOT’s Traveler Information Site at www.az511.gov, follow ADOT on Twitter (@ArizonaDOT) or call 511, except while driving.

Monsoon rain hits hard

WILLIAMS – The monsoon rain today hit hard flooding the streets and sending tourists scurrying for cover. The rain started about 2:15 and by 2:30 p.m. the streets were flowing. Many drivers seemed to forget about turning their lights on. The rain lightened up a bit in about 20 minutes, but continued to fall by 3:10 p.m. Lightning continued through the period and there is no telling when it will let up. This is the hardest rain this monsoon season so far. Residents and visitors should take care to watch out for flash flooding.
The chance for thunderstorms remains at 50% through Tuesday during the day, mainly after 11 p.m. It drops to 30% overnight. Lightning and flash floods are, of course, the main hazards during this period.

Kaibab National Forest seeks input on proposed wildlife viewing area

Northern leopard frogs with egg masses. (Kaibab National Forest Photo)

WILLIAMS – The Kaibab National Forest is seeking public input on a proposed project to construct a pond for the northern leopard frog as well as a larger wildlife viewing area on the grounds of the Williams Ranger District compound. The goals of the project are to increase the viable habitat for the frog and to provide the community with the opportunity to learn about conservation issues.

The project would include the pond that would serve as a habitat and source population for the northern leopard frogs, a pollinator garden to attract pollinator species, interpretive signs, and an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved trail, all of which are intended to enhance public education and recreation experiences.

The Kaibab National Forest is within the natural historic range of the northern leopard frog, which spans the northern and central portions of Arizona. Leading biologists have noted the species is undergoing significant declines in the southwestern United States. Factors like the presence of invasive species and infection by fungal diseases have contributed to the loss of northern leopard frog populations in Arizona, but no stressing factor is more prevalent than the loss of suitable wetland habitat.

The northern leopard frog, which was considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2011, was identified and listed as a Forest Service Sensitive Species by the Regional Forester in 2013. This means that it is a species for which population viability is a concern. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has also prioritized the northern leopard frog as a Tier 1A species, which categorizes it into the highest priority for conservation management and considers it to be a species of greatest conservation need.

The Kaibab National Forest has a history of working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve existing and attempt to establish new populations of northern leopard frogs on both the Williams and North Kaibab districts of the forest.

The Clover Pond Wildlife Habitat Project Proposed Action is available on the Kaibab National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=51795. Members of the public are invited to provide their comments through Aug. 21. To submit e-comments, please email comments-southwestern-kaibab-williams@fs.fed.us. For hard copy mailed or hand delivered comments, please deliver them to the Williams Ranger District office at 742 S. Clover Road, Williams, AZ 86046 during office hours Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information on the project, please contact Travis Largent, wildlife biologist, at (928) 635-5600.

Two-Year Old Found Safely After Wandering Away from Campsite

WILLIAMS – A two-year old boy is back safely with his family after wandering away from a campsite Wednesday afternoon.

At approximately 5:45 pm on Wednesday, Coconino County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call of a 2 year old boy who wandered away from the family’s campsite south of Williams, AZ near Hyde Hill. The campers, who were from the Phoenix area, consisted of a family of four adults and five children. They were setting up their camp off of the Forest Service 139 road when they realized the child was missing. They had last seen him approximately 20 minutes prior, and he had been playing with the other children next to the campsite.

Deputies from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, Williams Patrol District responded to initiate the investigation and establish containment of the search area. They coordinated bystanders and family who wanted to assist. Deputies from the Flagstaff Patrol District also responded as did the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit. Arizona Department of Public Safety, Northern Air Rescue was requested and flew over the area. Other agencies that assisted with the search included the Williams Fire Department and personnel from the Kaibab National Forest.

At approximately 7:30 pm, the child was located by one of the deputies searching the area. The child was found approximately 0.7 miles northwest of the camp in the forest near a road. The child was in good condition and was reunited with family members.

“We credit the success in finding the child to several factors, including that the report was called in timely and that Sheriff Deputies were able to get to the scene quickly,” the press release stated.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit provides preventative search and rescue education in the form of the Hug-A-Tree program to elementary age school children. The program has been offered and continues to be offered to schools in Coconino County. If a school or group would like to request a program please contact the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit.

Boundary Fire smoke enters Williams area

WILLIAMS – Smoke from the Boundary Fire entered Williams creating a slight haze over the area. The forest service issued an advisory for parts of Flagstaff, Bellemont, Parks and Williams.
Coconino County health issued a release advising that smoke from wildfires in Northern Arizona and in Southern Utah continues to affect several communities in Coconino County. County health officials are encouraging individuals to take precautions to protect themselves from health effects of wildfire smoke.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of small particles, gases and water vapor. The primary health concern is the small particles. Not everyone who is exposed to smoke will have health problems. Many factors influence a person’s susceptibility to smoke. These factors include the level, extent, and duration of exposure, age, and individual susceptibility.

Anyone who can see, taste or smell smoke should curtail outdoor activity. People with heart disease, lung disease or asthma should avoid the outdoors entirely, as should children and the elderly.

Boundary Fire Suppression Repair Needs Assessed

WILLIAMS – On Wednesday crews worked to secure control lines and patrol for hotspots along the perimeter. An assessment of suppression repair needs has begun. Suppression repair will include the construction of water bars to divert the flow of water away from fire lines during rainstorms, the felling of hazard trees, the repair of roads and trails where they were used as part of the control line and the repair of fences where they were cut to allow access to crews and equipment during suppression operations.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect today due to low humidity, high temperatures and strong winds. Due to the increased fire danger, the Coconino National Forest will move into Stage II fire restrictions at 8 am today.

The winds are expected to pick up today moving smoke around the north side of the San Francisco Peaks where it will then travel east. Smoke is expected to be most noticeable to the south of Grey Mountain and north of Timberline/Doney Park.

Summer to start off with hottest day of the year

WILLIAMS – The first day of summer may turn out to be the hottest day of the year with the temperature expected to be 96-degrees. You may be able to cool off by going to Flagstaff which expects a temperature of 95-degrees. The Weather Service has issued a heat advisory through Thursday evening when temperatures will start to drop off. Light winds are expected through Thursday.

With temperatures on the rise, we caution people about keeping animals in cars even with windows slightly open. Police are allowed to break windows if they feel that dogs are in danger.

Mosquitoes have started to make their presence known, as well. Make sure you stock up on your favorite mosquito repellent. Make sure you empty outdoor water sources, such as tires, birdbaths etc., to reduce areas where mosquitoes lay eggs.

Firefighters Make a Big Stride in Boundary Fire Containment

WILLIAMS – Monday afternoon, forecasted isolated thunderstorms brought gusty winds and light precipitation to the Boundary Fire. Crews made a big stride today securing private property parcels and fire lines which increased containment from 18% to 30%. Cloud cover and increased relative humidity allowed fire to move along the ground, promoting healthy consumption of dead and down fuel returning nutrients to the soil.

In the morning, minimal but noticeable smoke may impact the following communities of Flagstaff, Baderville, Tuba City, Cameron, Timberline/Doney Park, and Bellemont. Smoke will disperse east of Flagstaff towards Leupp and hazy smoke will be drifting near Doney Park and Timberline as temperatures increase throughout the day. For more information on smoke and air quality, visit www.azdeq.gov.

Smoke will continue to impact US 180, especially at night. US 180 has reopened north of Flagstaff between mileposts 236 and 248 after visibility along the highway has increased due to reduced smoke impact from the Boundary Fire, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. Though the road is open for travel, there will be lower speed limits through the affected area as firefighting operations continue and personnel and equipment enter and exit the highway. While the smoke impact has lessened enough to safely reopen US 180, ADOT personnel will continue to monitor visibility conditions along the highway.

US 89 remains open and may see light smoke impacts during the day. Interstate 40 may experience impacts in the evening and at night. The forest service advises drivers slow down and use caution when driving through these areas.

Firefighters contain wildfire in Williams despite drone incursion

WILLIAMS – Firefighters contained a small wildfire Thursday in Williams near Oak and 11th streets despite a drone flying over the area that temporarily delayed the arrival of a helicopter attempting to drop water on the blaze.

The Williams Fire, which was reported to the Williams Dispatch Center at about 12:45 p.m. Thursday and said to be located on the southwest side of Cemetery Hill, was less than a quarter mile away from residences in the area. Kaibab National Forest fire officials arrived on scene and immediately requested that a helicopter that was prepositioned at the Williams Airport be dispatched to drop water on the fire.

As the helicopter was preparing to launch, incident commander Mike Uebel reported that an unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone, was flying over the fire. The helicopter was advised to stand down until representatives from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office could find the operator and get the drone cleared from the area.

The drone eventually departed the fire area, and Uebel was able to guide the helicopter into the location to make water drops. Other firefighting resources working to suppress the Williams Fire included four engines and a dozer. While the Williams Fire was contained at less than an acre in size, the situation could have ended very differently, according to fire officials.

“People may be flying a drone thinking it’s cool to get video footage of a wildfire, but they don’t realize the impacts they have on our ability to do our jobs,” Uebel said. “Sometimes your actions that seem harmless can have major impacts to the safety of firefighters and to the safety of our community. If we can’t respond, we can’t put out the fire.”

Members of the public should never fly an unmanned aerial vehicle over or near a wildfire. Unauthorized drone flights could cause serious injury or death to firefighters in the air or firefighters and members of the public on the ground. Firefighting aircraft, such as air attack, lead planes, airtankers and helicopters, typically fly in smoky, windy and turbulent conditions. Safety depends on knowing what other aircraft are operating in the airspace and where they are at all times. This is compromised by the presence of unauthorized drones.

“We don’t want recreational drone use to impede the response of aerial resources. On another day when conditions weren’t as favorable for us, we could have had a different outcome,” said Jeremy Human, fire management officer for the Williams and Tusayan ranger districts.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. The drone never reappeared and the operator was not found.

Representatives from Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, Williams Police Department and Williams Fire Department all assisted Kaibab National Forest fire officials in the fire suppression effort.

Wind shift may relieve Flagstaff of smoke from Boundary Fire

WILLIAMS – Overnight light north winds pushed smoke into some communities around Flagstaff with most of the smoke dispersing before dawn. As Sunday progresses, northeast winds are expected to push smoke toward Williams and Bellemont. Individuals sensitive to smoke may want to stay indoors to avoid smoke impacts.

Firefighter, public safety, and ecosystem health remain the top priorities for fire managers while keeping the fire within the planning area. Smoke continues to affect Highway 180, especially at night, and may impact I-40 and SR 64 tonight. Travelers are urged to use caution when traveling in and around the fire area.

Aerial ignitions will continue today and into the week on Kendrick Mountain. Ground crews continue to conduct hand ignitions near and around private property. Ignitions will be applied slowly to prevent high intensity fire and to minimize smoke effects to communities and highways.

Kaibab National Forest (map) and Coconino National Forest have instituted Stage 1 Fire Restrictions as of June 15, 2017, at 8:00am MST.

The following trails in the closure area are closed: Pumpkin Trail, Kendrick Mountain Trail, Bull Basin Trail, Slate Mountain Trail, Kendrick Watchable Wildlife Trail, and the 4th Connector Trail. While the Red Mountain Trail is open, it can only be accessed from the valley end of the Highway 180.