Fire crews battling the Rafael Fire work to stay steps ahead of the flames

The Rafael Fire continues to burn in Sycamore Canyon on Saturday night at nearly 54,000 acres and 11% containment, but a plan years in the making is unfolding just to the northwest of flames to help ease the fire fight.

Shovels in hand, chainsaws on shoulders and igniters scraping the pine needles, fire crews gave an up-close look at a massive, miles-long burnout.

The burnout has been years in the making. About three years ago, there was a fire in the area, which means the brush hasn’t grown back too thick yet, making it ideal for a burnout.

"We’re trying to keep the fire on the ground. Low intensity on this side of the road so it has less spotting potential," explained Bryor Nittmann with Mormon Lake Hot Shots.

Fire command says the weather was ideal and monsoons could be on their way so they wanted to get out ahead, way ahead, of the Rafael Fire.

"We really rapidly excelled our burnout while we could so we weren’t going to be battling that while thunder cells moved in," said Mike Miller, Operations Section Chief.

Teams say a lighting strike two days ago sparked flames just ahead of the Rafael Fire which is currently scorching Sycamore Canyon.

Starting this burnout wall means keeping firefighters safe and away from rough terrain.

"There’s no good way out. So just putting people down there isn’t a good move for us," Nittmann said.

On the horizon, Arizonans can see the smoke for miles and miles, but at least some of this smoke is from the miles of fire line now created by more than a hundred firefighters working around the clock.

For more information on the Rafael Fire, visit this link.

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