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Update: Finger Rock Fire fizzles as humidity rises

Just hours after flaring through the Catalina Foothills, with billowing smoke and dramatic flames looming over Tucson, a wildfire north of the city has slowly burned out, with little fire activity Thursday or Friday. Officials did not increase their estimate of the burned area for nearly two days, as only small threads of smoke rose from the mountains.

The Finger Rock Fire in the Santa Catalina Mountains had burned 750 acres since flaring up midday Wednesday, with most of the burning taking place that afternoon and evening.

Only wisps of smoke were seen Friday, rising from the area after afternoon showers over the mountain range, and the fire continued to show only a low level of activity.

"The fire continues to make progress, although not growing significantly," officials said Friday evening.

Officials said they were still monitoring the blaze, but no firefighters have been tasked with working the fire. Crews are "on standby should the fire burn near homes and suppression become necessary."

The fire is burning in steep, rocky terrain in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, in an area which historically experienced fire every 10-12 years. There has not been a fire in the area in at least 80 years, resulting in overgrown vegetation and excessive fuel loads.

The fire, near Pontatoc Canyon, is in inaccessible terrain with rocky bluffs above it. The blaze was "performing its natural role in the ecosystem by removing excess vegetation," said Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Schewel.

Fire managers and the hand crew on standby hiked to the lower edge of the canyon to get a closer look at the fire.

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"The fire is being actively managed, for multiple objectives," officials said, rather than merely "letting it burn."

Those include "firefighter and public safety; protection of life and property; and restoring fire to its role in the fire-adapted ecosystem, clearing excess vegetation and recycling nutrients."

Thursday, more accurate mapping increased the estimate of the already burned area from the 500 acres announced Wednesday night to 750 acres. Friday evening, officials held to the 750-acre figure, with the fire not spreading for more than a day.

Higher humidity, lighter winds and a few sprinkles of rain Thursday dampened the fire, which "is performing its natural role in the ecosystem."

The small fire in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson grew from just 5 acres to more than 150 and then burned up canyons and along ridge lines overnight Wednesday, consuming mostly grass and brush, officials said.

Thursday and Friday, there was little movement by the fire, with the estimate of the size of the burned area increasing from 500 to 750 acres after officials more accurately mapped the fire's path through the steep, rocky terrain. 

The fire had smoldered for a week after being sparked by a lightning strike on July 29. Officials closed a trail nearby, but say the Finger Rock Fire is in a remote location and no structures were threatened.

Authorities were allowing the fire, which had been dampened by rains over the past two weeks, to continue to burn and monitoring the situation, with crews "ready to take action if necessary," they said.

The fire was started by a lightning strike last Wednesday. Earlier this Wednesday, it covered only about five acres and was not showing significant growth, authorities said. As the winds picked up with the sunset, a line of fire reached eastward along a ridge line.

Finger Rock Trail No. 42 has been closed, Fire Service officials said.

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Map of affected areas

Source: U.S. Forest Service. Click to enlarge.

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U.S. Forest Service

Rain on Friday meant little growth for the Finger Rock Fire burning north of Tucson.