Wildcat Fire burns 14K acres, roads reopen near Bartlett Lake

PHOENIX - Roads near Bartlett Lake have reopened as crews still work to contain a wildfire northeast of Cave Creek that has scorched just over 14,000 acres.

The Wildcat Fire was first reported at 9:20 a.m. on May 18. The fire was 84% contained as of May 27.

According to a news release, the Geronimo and Prescott hotshot crews, air tankers and a helicopter were ordered to battle the blaze. Scottsdale Fire also assisted with containing the fire.

After the fire sparked, parties were escorted off Bartlett Lake to safety as the unpredictability of the fire threatened people in the area.

For now, authorities say what's burning is grass and desert shrubs. No structures have burned, and no evacuations were ordered.

The National Interagency Fire Center said the fire was human-caused.

"Smoke from the Wildcat Fire may be visible in the surrounding areas for many days. Smoke will drift to the north and east due to southwest winds. Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory problems or heart disease are encouraged to take precautionary measures," the U.S. Forest Service said.

Fire officials say a fire like this is pretty early to happen for this time of year.

Road closures

Roads were closed near the intersection of Horseshoe Dam and Bartlett Dam Roads, but they have since been reopened.

"Fire crews will still be working to contain the Wildcat Fire, and the public is cautioned to drive safely through the area and be aware of their surroundings," officials said.

Out-of-state crews called

The fire required crews from out of state to respond. One of the states being Montana.

"I think we're going to start ordering resources from other states now, or they're probably going to be ordered pretty soon, and we'll probably just start having engines from all over and hotshot crews from all over the country kind of converge on the southwest to give us a hand on all these fires," Brad Widhalm, a Tonto National Forest spokesperson, said.

The biggest challenge continues to be strong wind gusts.

"If we can't get around it like that and the wind just keeps pushing it, that’s our biggest concern. Tomorrow's supposed to be even windier, so tomorrow will be a day that we'll have to be on our toes and hope that our lines are holding and are secure," Widhalm said.

Widhalm says this fire could be one of the largest in the area, if not the largest.

"If it continues on this path, it's going to be a record breaker," he said.

‘People got to be more careful out here’

Residents like Cory Donaldson say it comes with the territory living in the desert, but the flames, choppers and air tankers are pretty close to his home.

"A little nerve wracking. Last year we had the one that was really close to the house, which is just becoming too familiar," he said.

When it comes to recreations in the desert – UTVs, dirtbikes – everyone is responsible.

"It's going to be a fire season where people have to be careful what they're doing outside. It could have been just as simple as a small spark that started this one," Widhalm said.

Donaldson hopes people take into consideration that there are residents in the more rural parts of the desert.

"You know, people got to be more careful out here," Donaldson said. "You've got a lot of residents out here, and, you know, that's the nature of the beast."

The biggest concern for residents and crews is the wind.

"I hope it doesn't continue because it's too early, way too early right now," Donaldson said.

Map of where the fire is burning