Wildfire near Bartlett Lake now 50% contained, Bartlett Dam Road now open

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, Ariz. (FOX 10) -- Crews are making big progress on the first major brush fire of the season. The Mountain Fire is now 50 percent contained, but nearly 7,500 acres. The fire is burning east of the Interstate 17 between Cave Creek and Bartlett Lake.

Fire officials say crews are continuing to make good progress on the fire and their efforts are still focused on building and enhancing containment features and mopping-up interior heat. Bartlett Dam Road has now reopened. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office assisted with mandatory evacuations of Bartlett Lake. No structures are threatened.

"We don't want the public out there in danger, so just completely stay away from the Bartlett Lake area if you got plans," said Brad Widhalm with the Tonto National Forest

It remains closed through the weekend. Everyone has evacuated the Horseshoe and Bartlett Lake area, but we're now hearing from visitors who watched the Mountain Fire explode as they rushed to leave.

Chirs Webb and her husband went kayaking Friday morning just before seeing the smoke rise, the Mountain Fire growing in front of their eyes. The Weebs waited by the marina with dozens of people trying to join the convoy to get out of the Bartlett Lake area, making it just in time.

"The smoke got bigger and bigger over the hill," Webb said. "And I got a little bit concerned about 2 o'clock, like maybe we should get off the lake. We did feel a little bit safe because there were a lot of fire crews working on both sides of the road trying to keep the fire from getting to the road where all the vehicles were going to in the caravan."

Before mandatory evacuations activated, some did not get to go home immediately. Heather Owen took photos of the approaching flames from her campsite Friday night, fearing the worst.

"But then you sit there and watch it come over that hill and you think, 'Oh my God, if it starts coming down that hill, we're in big trouble,' it's so surreal," Owen said. "People are oblivious and think what they do doesn't matter - but it does."

For three days, air tankers and helicopters have helped battle the fire from above as nearly 250 firefighters continue to work on the ground, slowly but surely containing the Mountain Fire. According to officials, the cause is man-made as the investigation is ongoing.

"It was very tough for us to get any sort of containment on it," said Widhalm.

Michelle Gray, her family, and friends prepped their camper for a fun weekend at Bartlett Lake but instead, they spent the afternoon stuck at a road closure, watching the Mountain Fire burn through the Tonto National Forest.

"Kinda sitting out here on the background, and just kind of watching it, hoping again that it would slow down, but it hasn't. It continues to come and go, it's gonna go away, continues to grow," said Gray.

Several others also played the waiting game. Chuck Atherton said he couldn't get ahold of his friends who were already enjoying the lake.

"So, we are just hanging out here, trying to communicate with them, but looks like we'll be turning around and going home," said Atherton.

Smoke visibility is lighter than in the past two days. As for the road closures, officials will re-evaluate on Monday.

FOX 10 reported on this story from Phoenix.