Over 200 fire personnel from multiple fire agencies around the state are battling the Sawmill Fire, which was burning an estimated 15,000 acres about 40 miles in the Coronado National Forest, according to the Arizona Department of Forestry.
Golder Ranch Fire District
Strong, gusty winds and low humidity contributed to the spread of a wildfire burning south of Tucson that has forced evacuations.
As of Tuesday night, the Sawmill Fire had burned an estimated 20,000 acres in the Coronado National Forest since it sparked Sunday and was about 7 percent contained. Nearly 350 firefighters and 11 aircraft were being used to battle the flames, according to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s fire-incident website.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has evacuated several communities, including Hilton Ranch. About 100 residents have been evacuated, and the Sheriff’s Department has put other areas on pre-evacuation notice.
The Department of Forestry and Fire Management had said earlier Tuesday that it expected high winds to contribute to the fire’s growth. The agency’s Tuesday night update said those conditions were continuing to fuel the fire, which had grown from 18,000 acres Tuesday afternoon.
The National Weather Service had issued a wind advisory and red-flag warning, which indicates low relative humidity and high fire danger, for southern Arizona until 8 p.m. Tuesday, with wind gusts in the area as high as 41 mph.
“The fuels the fire is burning off of also make it difficult to battle, as it is in a woodland area,” said Tiffany Davila, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, which is managing the firefight.
A National Weather Service meteorologist is at the fire-command center to provide real-time information that could aid in the firefight, Davila said. Hector Vasquez, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Phoenix, said the agency typically gets involved when the fire is growing and considered to be particularly intense.
Davila said “multiple evacuations have taken place and a lot of ‘pre-evac’ on standby.” A shelter for evacuees has been set up at the Southeast Regional Park Shooting Range, 11296 S. Harrison Road, Tucson.
Just before noon, the Green Valley Fire District sent out a Facebook update stating that the human-caused Sawmill Fire had displaced “nearly three dozen homes and ranches near the eastern slope,” with a mandatory evacuation after the fire leaped across Highway 83 late Monday evening.
As of Tuesday morning, “officials issued pre-evacuation orders for another 88 homes in the Hilton Ranch area east of state Highway 83 this morning,” said John Cambra, Elfrida Fire District and firefighting team lead. He added that officials were still in the process of trying to determine where to set up a second temporary shelter for residents displaced by fire.
The roughly dozen residents who were initially evacuated Sunday on the western side of the mountain were allowed back into their homes late Sunday evening, according to Cambra, who added, “Roughly 30 firefighters remained on the western side looking for and putting out flare-ups.”
The Arizona Department of Transportation has closed State Route 89 south of Interstate 10 from milepost 40 to milepost 55. Detours include State Route 90 to go east or Interstate 19 to head south. The closure was expected to remain in place all day Tuesday.
Crews are working to keep the fire south of Box Canyon Road, west of Forest Road 165, and east of Sawmill Canyon.
Some popular scenic trails on the mountain have also been closed to reduce the risk to lives in the area. Parts of the Arizona National Scenic Trail along with Cave Creek, Sawmill, and Florida Canyon trails were reported to be closed Tuesday afternoon, according to Cambra. “The temporary closure is in place to provide for public safety and to limit traffic while fire-suppression activities are underway on the Sawmill Fire,” Cambra said.
Crews from three Phoenix-area fire departments made their way down to the fireline late Monday and early Tuesday morning to assist in the fight. The Superstition Fire and Medical District, Scottsdale Fire Department and Surprise Fire Department are said to be playing various roles in fire suppression because they are trained in wildlands firefighting, according to Davila.
The fire management and suppression team now includes five Department of Forestry and Fire Management inmate crews, as well as a handful of hotshot teams. Air resources are also assisting with the fire, including one very large air tanker, five heavy air tankers, helicopters, and fixed-wing planes, the agency said.
“It’s all about teamwork and who we need on the ground for a specific job or task,” Davila said, adding that the three fire crews volunteered. “We need their manpower and will gladly take all the trained help we can get.”
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