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Arizona wildfire crews battling 30 blazes, 'spread thin' across state

Fire crews are battling 30 wildfires in Arizona, and the high activity is worrying the state's forestry officials, who said Sunday that fire crews are "spread thin."

Since January 1, 858 wildfires have burned more than 130,000 acres across the state and on Sunday, the Department of Forestry and Fire Management, along with local and federal agencies, announced that fire crews are currently battling 30 wildfires throughout Arizona. 

"Sunday’s gusty winds and hot temperatures equated to multiple wildfire starts and seem to set the stage for what the fire season has in store for Arizona – active," said State Forester Jeff Whitney. 

Whitney said that fire officials are apprehensive because of three fires: the 1,200-acre Tee Fire, which continues to burn roughly 40 miles north of Phoenix; the Highline Fire, which has burned 750 acres of Ponderosa pine and mixed conifer along the Mogollon Rim about 60 miles southeast of Flagstaff; and the Lizard fire, which has burned 14,900 acres after merging with the Dragoon Fire on Saturday in the Dragoon Mountains about 59 miles east of Tucson. 

This year's largest fire remains the Sawmill Fire, which burned nearly 47,000 acres of grass and chaparral southeast of Tucson in April. The fire was started by an explosive target set off by an off-duty Border Patrol agent who was target shooting. 

On Sunday, fire officials said that the Lizard Fire, caused by a lightning strike Wednesday, was about five percent contained after the fire's activity subsided slightly overnight. 

Early Sunday, officials worried that the blaze could be carried by dry grass and shrubs at higher elevations and that light, dry fuels in the crevices of the rock faces could allow the fire to push past natural fire barriers. However, by Sunday evening, fire conditions moderated slightly, and firefighters were able to blunt the progression of the fire's eastern flank above Cochise Stronghold. 

Ground crews, backed by water drops from three helicopters, concentrated their efforts on protecting structures near the Stronghold. 

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Officials again reminded the public that the use of drones in the area is illegal and could hamper firefighting efforts by forcing officials to ground their aircraft. 

"Firefighting aircraft, rotor or fixed wing, are immediately grounded if a drone is detected," fire officials said. "This can result in loss of property and even loss of life for which the drone operator could be held responsible. So drone owners be aware, if you fly near the fire, we can’t fly."

Whitney urged the public to be careful around fire, making sure that campfires are completely out before walking away, never drag tow chains, and never pull off the side of the road in tall grasses.

"As we hustle to fight these fires, we ask the public to do their part and be vigilant around fire and proactive around their properties,” said Whitney.

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1 comment on this story

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5 comments
Jun 14, 2017, 10:08 am
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It’s the 21st century.  Why don’t they put the fire out?

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Coronado National Forest