• Raw Video: Sawmill Fire burns south of Tucson

    Raw Video: Sawmill Fire burns south of Tucson

  • Sawmill Fire burns along highway

    Sawmill Fire burns along highway

  • Arizona officials continue to fight Sawmill Fire blaze

    Arizona officials continue to fight Sawmill Fire blaze


Two wildfires burning in Arizona, one just outside the Valley and one south of Tucson, have scorched thousands of acres as firefighters try to get the upper hand.

The Sawmill and Cactus fires are the first significant wildfires of the season. Here are 5 things you need to know about each fire.

Sawmill Fire

HOW LARGE IS IT? An estimated 40,356 acres have burned by the Sawmill Fire, roughly 10 miles southeast of Green Valley, as projected by aerial reconnaissance flights. Twenty percent of the fire was contained as of Thursday morning. An interactive fire map of the affected area is available here

HOW DID IT HAPPEN? The blaze is believed to have been human-caused and began Sunday; more than 600 personnel have responded. A Type I Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire Thursday because of increased complexity. Firefighters worked to secure the western perimeter of the fire as others aimed to protect structures farther east. 


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A lull in winds Wednesday contributed to a successful burnout operation along the southern end of the fire, though firefighters observed increased activity along the eastern border, where firefighters observed increased activity in Apache Creek Canyon. 

Crews with the federal, state and local fire, land and forestry agencies will continue to utilize burnout operations to strengthen the fire perimeter and protect nearby structures. Other personnel are securing and monitoring activity in less-active fire areas throughout the day.

An official Facebook page for the Sawmill Fire operated by the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 1 will periodically provide updates on conditions.

WILL WEATHER BE A FACTOR? High winds are on the upswing with projected gusts of about 35 mph, which, combined with low humidity, have resulted in a Red Flag warning. Thursday’s warning will be in effect from noon to 7 p.m. Fuels in the fecund landscape include tall grass, riparian woodland, chaparral mesquite, oak brush and pinyon-juniper. 

WHO AND WHAT ARE AT RISK? Homes, ranches, outbuildings, communication facilities, and portions of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which spans more than 800 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border to Utah. 

There have been no reports of structural damage or injuries, though about 100 people have been evacuated from their homes.

An evacuation order remains in place for Rain Valley. An evacuation center at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Sonoita has moved to the Sonoita Bible Church, located at 3174 Arizona Highway 83, Sonoita.

A community meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Community Bible Church, 714 S. J-6 Ranch Road, Benson.

ANY ROADS AFFECTED? State Route 83, a scenic drive spanning from Interstate 10 to Parker Canyon Lake, remained closed to the public Thursday.


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Cactus Fire

HOW LARGE IS IT? This fire is burning 4 miles northeast of Mesa, near the Bush Highway. An estimated 500 acres have burned, with about 30 percent of the fire contained, officials with the Tonto National Forest reported Thursday. What’s burning: Fuels along the riparian river bottom, including mesquite, salt cedar and cactuses. 

HOW DID IT HAPPEN?: The fire began Tuesday with smoke visible from the East Valley and is burning along the Phon D Sutton day-use area in the Tonto National Forest, where no infrastructure has been threatened. 

Gusty afternoon winds challenged firefighters Tuesday but additional crews arrived Wednesday to combat the flames and secure fire lines along the north and east sides. 

The forestry service announced Thursday morning that the crews had successfully kept the fire south of the Salt River and north of Mesa neighborhoods while keeping the flames away from utility lines. 

Officials with the Tonto National Forest reported Wednesday that the fire was moving away from communities in the northeast edge of Mesa.

WHO AND WHAT ARE AT RISK? Developed recreational sites including the Granite Reef picnicking site, Coon’s Bluff and Phon D Sutton trail.

In addition, crews are protecting utility infrastructure, cultural resources and the landscape along the Salt River. Firefighters have not seen any Salt River horses in the immediate vicinity of the fire, the forestry service reported. 

WILL WEATHER BE A FACTOR? The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning Thursday that will be in place from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Humidity will be as low as 7 percent and wind gusts could potentially reach a speed of 40 mph. The combination of dry fuels, low humidity and potentially high winds could lead to hazardous fire conditions

Firefighters are watching for spot fires as windy conditions return to the area. 

ANY ROADS AFFECTED? The Bush Highway remains closed between Power and Usery Park roads. The roadway is not expected to remain closed over the weekend, though temporary area closures allowing firefighters to continue suppression efforts could occur.

Return to azcentral.com for updates.

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