PAYSON, AZ — The Backbone Fire burning near Payson has forced the popular Boy Scout camp, Camp Geronimo, to evacuate.
As of Thursday afternoon, the wildfire had burned about 40,000 acres and was at 1% containment. Officials closed Tonto, Coconino, and Prescott National Forest lands near the fire.
Matt Perrius is a scoutmaster and oversees a troop of scouts in Gilbert. He's been going to Camp Geronimo for seven years with his son Zach.
"Camp Geronimo has a huge variety of hiking trails that are just gorgeous spots on the Mogollon Rim...that's the draw. You're going up to this altitude, out of the heat of the Valley," he said.
This summer, organizers were expecting about 3,000 scouts from all over the Southwest for the eight-week camp.
Scouts take part in a weeklong trip packed with activities.
"Pioneering and lashing and first aid and swimming and canoeing but also we've been very progressive in adding new programs like a fish camp which is a collaborative program with trout unlimited. We added this year a drone camp program where scouts can learn stem activities," said Andy Price, CEO for the Grand Canyon Council, which oversees most Boy Scouts of America programs in Arizona.
But Friday evening, about 500 campers were evacuated due to the Backbone Fire. The camp shut down this entire week.
"It's unfortunate but it's something we prepare for every year," said Perrius. "We've always worried about wildfires and how they'll affect camps. When we get to camp, the very first thing we do is safety drills."
Unfortunately, some out-of-town troops expecting to start this past Saturday had to turn around and go back home.
"That's devastating for troops because they spend a lot of time, money and the logistics of getting the adult leaders to take their time off from work to pay their way to go to camp is huge for those out-of-town troops," said Perrius.
"We've worked with many of them to reschedule them to later sessions that will occur this summer, unfortunately, some are not able to reschedule," said Price.
Price said they have the green light to reopen this Saturday. Perrius and his troop plan on being there.
ABC15 also checked with some other popular camps in the area, including Sky Y, Friendly Pines Camp, and Camp Shadow Pines. Those have not been impacted by the fires.