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PAYSON, AZ -- A wildfire discovered last Sunday north of Payson is now 100 percent contained, according to U.S. Forest officials.
The investigation continues into the cause of the fire which resulted in the evacuation of two nearby communities.
The fire area remains closed to the public; Houston Mesa Road between Beaver Valley and Whispering Pines remains closed.
Water Wheel, First Crossing, Second Crossing, Third Crossing, and Cold Spring recreation sites also remain closed due to the presence of rolling debris, hazard trees overhanging the road, and burned guard rails, officials said.
The 773-acre fire forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the Beaver Valley and Whispering Pines subdivisions.
Residents of Beaver Valley were allowed back a day later, but residents of Whispering Pines had to wait a little longer. A campground also had been evacuated.
"It was preparedness, but I think the good Lord blessed us," said Roger Kreimeyer, who with his wife packed up their fifth-wheel trailer and left the Beaver Valley house they built in 2002. "If the wind would have been blowing the other way, it would have been chaos."
Fire officials say increased humidity and low fire intensity led to the decision to lift the evacuation orders.
Erratic behavior characterized the blaze, with flames up to 75 feet high.
Operations chief Darrel Willis said 70 percent of the vegetation in the area, including Ponderosa Pine, manzanita and oak brush, was dried out.
"That's how weather is, you just never know what's going to happen," said fire spokeswoman Lori Cook. "The good thing is we were able to give good news. It could have been flipped."
Arizona's fire season usually has ended by this time of year, but things have changed without the usual monsoon rains.
Mike Martin, a fire crew member from Globe, emerged from a canyon where he was helping build a perimeter around the fire, thankful for cloud cover early Monday.
"We don't get complacent because it goes from this," he said, pointing to a few smoldering spots in the forest, "to a raging inferno in a heartbeat."
The blaze charred much of the mountainside that serves as a backdrop to the Beaver Valley subdivision.
It came within a quarter-mile of homes there and within a half-mile of the Whispering Pines subdivision on the mountain's other side.
Kent Cullumber and his family had just finished lunch when they got a call telling them to look out the window at the mountain covered in flames.
"I went out and was taking pictures like crazy, and my wife kept yelling, 'hurry up, we gotta get out of here,"' he said. See pictures from the fire in the attached photo slideshow.
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No injuries have been reported.
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