Bear attacks 74-year-old woman near Payson

PAYSON, AZ - A 74-year-old Arizona woman was injured Thursday morning when a bear ripped a hole in the tent where she, her husband, and their dog had been sleeping.

According to Arizona Game and Fish officials, the attack occurred around 4:30 a.m. at the Ponderosa Campground in Tonto National Forest, about 10 miles east of Payson.

Officials said after tearing open the tent, the bear reportedly stuck its head in and clawed at the woman, leaving her with bruises and a laceration on her scalp.

The Apache Junction woman was treated at Payson Regional Medical Center for non-life-threatening injuries and was released. The woman's husband and dog were not hurt.  

According to Game and Fish information chief Jim Paxon, a large adult bear had recently been seen hanging around the campsite dumpsters.

A wildlife manager with Arizona Game and Fish Department visited the Ponderosa Campground Wednesday looking for the bear, but could not find it.

Wildlife officials set a trap for the bear and warned all campers of the bear threat.

Paxon said the bear returned to the campground sometime during the night. Campground officials chased the bear, but it ran away. It returned a short time later and attacked the campers in their tent.

Personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services are working with Game and Fish officers, using dogs to track the bear from the scene of the attack.

"Public safety is our first priority," said Paxon. "This bear poses a threat to public safety and therefore needs to be lethally removed."

Officials have evacuated campers and closed Ponderosa Campground. Lower Tonto Creek, Bear Flat, and Forest Road 405A have also been closed.

An official closure will be put into effect by the Forest Service until the bear danger lessens.

"The bear was probably looking for food, which is scarce this summer because of drought," Paxon said. 

"These campers secured their food in the cab of their truck, and there was no food in the tent. While the campers were with the campground host and medical personnel, the bear came back to the tent a second time, ripped another hole in it, and then went after a pillow that had blood on it from the woman's wounds," Paxon said.

Bears are very active during the summer, Paxon said. It's important to stay alert.

"Bears are attracted to places like dumpsters, trash bins, and campsites. Whether folks live here or are just visiting, they need to remember this is bear country. Never leave food out, and never take food into a tent," Paxon said.

Wildlife experts say that if you're approached by a bear, the worst thing you can do is run away. Instead, stand your ground and make a lot of noise like banging pots and pans together.

Bear attacks on humans are rare. There have only been seven documented cases of bear attacks in Arizona since 1990, including this one. A Gilbert woman died last summer after being attacked by a bear in Pinetop.

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