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Feds grant FEMA assistance for Lizard Fire

The federal government will help fund the effort to halt the Lizard Fire, which has burned about 15,000 acres southeast of Tucson. The wildfire showed only moderate activity on Monday, despite a red flag warning issued because of high winds and dry weather, officials said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized funding to assist firefighting efforts, officials said Monday. The agency determined that the blaze "threatened such destruction as would constitute a major disaster."

The grant will cover up to 75 percent of eligible costs, including field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; tools; materials; supplies and mobilization; and demobilization activities.

The fire began after a lightning strike Friday in an area of tall grass and brush in Cochise County, and was being fought by 615 personnel on Monday. It was about 15 percent contained.

Despite the red flag warning, the fire didn't spread as expected, officials said.

"In fact, conditions were considerably more moderate than yesterday," said officials with the Coronado National Forest. "The eastern flank of the fire and the area above Cochise Stronghold were still quite active but responded favorably to firefighting efforts. Efforts by ground crews, assisted by water drops from three helicopters, was concentrated on structure protection near the Stronghold."

But "several hours remain in the burning period due to the lengthening days, and high temperatures paired with continuing gusty winds persist," officials said.

"The southern perimeter of the fire contains bowl-like geographical features which create firefighting challenges, but heavy support from water-dropping helicopters aided efforts in that area" on Sunday, said D. Giselle Koehn of the National Forest Service.

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Power lines along the northern edge of the burned area are no longer threatened, and no further power outages are expected to be caused by the blaze, said Koehn.

Evacuation orders were reinstated Monday afternoon for the Cochise Stronghold area, starting at the intersection of North Cochise Stronghold and West Ironwood Road and everything south and west from that point.

"There are numerous fire apparatus and personnel doing structure protection and fighting the southern edge of the fire which would make it extremely challenging to allow residents back at this time," said Carol Capas of the Cochise County Sheriff's Office.

A pre-evacuation notice remains in effect for the area of Redhead south of Middlemarch Road and east to North Cochise Stronghold Road, Capas said.

Fire crews are battling 30 wildfires in Arizona, including the Lizard Fire, 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.

State Forester Jeff Whitney said 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.

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.

TucsonSentinel.com’s Paul Ingram contributed to this report.


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Coronado National Forest

Fire retardant being dropped on the Lizard Fire on Sunday.