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500-acre prescribed burn set for Rincon Mountains

Smoke will be visible in the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson this week as more than 500 acres on Mica Mountain are set to be cleared with a prescribed fire, officials said.

With weather conditions "finally looking ideal" to clear underbrush and downed trees with a moderate-intensity blaze, Saguaro National Park fire managers will carry out prescribed burns for two to three days, beginning Tuesday, a National Park Service spokesman said.

"Fire managers will only conduct the prescribed burn when environmental factors such as wind, temperature, and relative humidity are favorable," NPS's Cam Juarez said.

The burns will take place on the upper elevations of Mica Mountain, the tallest peak in the range, on the north side of the Rincon Mountain District. Up to 541 acres may be cleared, he said.

Several trails in the area will be closed during the burn: Bonita, Spud Rock, Mica Mountain, Mica Meadow, Fire Loop/Heartbreak Ridge (between the junctions of Mica Mountain (south) and Italian Spring), and the Arizona Trail / Fire Loop (between the junctions of Cowhead Saddle and Italian Spring and Cowhead Saddle to Manning Camp). Arizona Trail hikers should plan for temporary delays, however fire managers will escort Arizona Trail hikers through the Arizona Trail / Fire Loop (between the junctions of Cowhead Saddle and Italian Springs and Cowhead Saddle to Manning Camp) when it is safe to do so.

Smoke will be visible from Tucson and Benson, and "may temporarily drift downhill overnight in the Redington Pass, Rincon Creek, and San Pedro River Valley drainages," Juarez said.

"Smoke is expected to be present on backcountry trails within the vicinity of Mica Mountain for at least a week or until significant precipitation occurs. Backcountry campers could experience light to moderate smoke with greater concentration for those camping at Manning Camp and Spud Rock campgrounds especially during the early morning hours for two to five days following the completion of prescribed fire ignitions," he said.

"Lightning-ignited fires have historically burned through the high elevation ponderosa pine forests of southeastern Arizona, but past fire suppression has created unnatural conditions with build-ups of downed trees and dense underbrush in many places.  Fire managers use low to moderate intensity prescribed fires to maintain healthy forests in the Rincon Mountains and to prevent large intense wildfires," Juarez said.

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U.S. Forest Service

A firefighter at a 2015 blaze near the Grand Canyon.