Water Tower Telegraph Fire Haze

Another pretty Pinal County sunset? Not so fast; the darker band of clouds in the center of this photo taken in Coolidge is smoke and haze coming from the Telegraph Fire about 30 miles northeast of the city.

SUPERIOR — Pinal County health officials issued an air quality advisory as smoke from an on-going massive wildfire has hovered over the region.

Pinal County Air Quality Control and Pinal County Public Health jointly issued an air quality advisory Thursday due to the potential for elevated particulates associated with smoke from the Telegraph Fire burning south and east of Superior. Periods of moderate smoke are possible over the next few days in areas of Superior, Queen Valley, Top-of-the-World and nearby communities.

Officials encourage individuals in those communities to limit outdoor activities during periods of smoke.

Meanwhile, El Capitan residents in Gila County were able to return to check on their homes Friday.

Telegraph Fire officials said they were allowing residents of El Capitan to go back to the community. Only residents are allowed in the area, said Telegraph Fire Planning Operations Section Chief Chad Rice in a morning briefing.

State Route 77 remained closed to the public between U.S. 70 and State Route 177 in Winkelman, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. There is no estimated time on when the highway might reopen.

As of Friday morning, the fire had burned 176,122 acres in Pinal and Gila counties and was 72% contained. It had burned 51 structures. Officials were to hold a Facebook Live event at 6 p.m. Friday on the Telegraph Fire Information Facebook page.

Telegraph fire map 6/18/21

A map of the spread of the Telegraph Fire as of June 18. 

Firefighters have been able to check some of the fire’s growth to the south by pushing it toward some mine tailings and previous fire scars in the Troy Mountain area, Rice said.

Crews are still working the State Route 77 and 177 corridors looking to identify places to put in hand or dozer lines to help control the spread of the fire.

Firefighters are also monitoring and mopping up operations in the upper Icehouse and Kellner Canyon areas. They are also continuing to protect properties and buildings in the El Capitan, Wind Spirit and Dripping Springs areas.

The north side of the fire is looking “very cool” with not much fire growth, he said. There are some interior islands in the area that are causing some smoke. Crews will be patrolling the area and will start the process of repairing some of the fire’s damage near Top-of-the-World. The hope is to minimize the potential for soil erosion in the area and remove some of the dozer lines and fire breaks that were put in place to control the fire.

Residents of Superior, Queen Valley, Hayden, Florence and the Phoenix Valley should expect light smoke today. Winds are expected to shift from east/southeast to west/southwest this afternoon, which should clear some of the smoke over these communities. However, San Carlos and Safford could see smoke this afternoon after the winds shift.

Dry thunderstorms are possible over the fire area in the afternoon, which could result in strong, gusty winds that could push the smoke in any direction.

As of 9 a.m. on Friday, the Dripping Springs, Wind Spirit, Hagen Ranch, Slash S Ranch and Government Springs communities were still listed as in “Go” status, which means residents should have evacuated the area.

The communities of El Capitan, Six Shooter and Icehouse canyons are listed in “Set” status, which means they should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Superior, Globe, Miami, Claypool, Central Heights, Pinto/Carlotta, Skill Center, Fairgrounds, Schulze Ranch, Ray Mine, Top-of-the-World, Bellevue, Oak Flat, Beverly Hills, Riverside, Kearney, Winkleman, Hayden and Battle Ax communities are at “Ready” status, which means they should be aware that there is possibility of fire danger in the area.

Temperatures are expected to climb to around 107 degrees today in the area. The high temperatures, low humidity and drought conditions in the area have made it difficult to fight the fire over the last few days. The conditions have caused firefighting aircraft to be grounded and crews to stop dozer work due to the heat. Winds from dry thunderstorms in the area have caused the fire to spread south.

Officials are investigating but believe the fire may have been human caused. The fire started on June 4.

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Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa is a reporter covering the city of Casa Grande and the surrounding area, as well as Central Arizona College. She can be reached at sadams@pinalcentral.com.