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Wildfire near Patagonia is 0% contained, has burned 10,500 acres

The wind-driven San Rafael Fire grew to over 10,500 acres on Sunday, burning through grassland around 22 miles southeast of Patagonia, Ariz., and fire officials warned that "red-flag" conditions Monday may complicate fire suppression efforts. 

The fire began Saturday around 6:30 p.m. in the San Rafael State Natural Area—a 90,000 acre refuge that includes two natural springs—and chewed through a "heavy grass crop" over the weekend. The fire now encompasses an area near Lochiel at the U.S.-Mexico border toward Canelo, a ghost town in the Coronado National Forest about 55 miles southeast of Tucson. 

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, officials said. 

On Sunday night, fire crews took advantage of decreased fire activity and worked by hand to create new fire-lines to help slow the wildfire's forward progress, however, officials warned that red flag conditions Monday may "hinder daytime fire suppression efforts" warning that high winds, low relative humidity, and dry fuels could allow the fire to quickly spread, and move erratically. This would make direct fire suppression efforts unsafe, said Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. 

Arizona Forestry hand crews, along with federal and local firefighters—including the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District—are attempting to halt the fire's progress. Nearly 120 people are working on knocking down the fire, and multiple aircraft—including Very Large Air Tankers, modified airliners that can drop thousands of gallons of fire retardant at once—have been deployed. Along with the VLATs, multiple helicopters were deployed, however, Davila warned that high winds may "limit the ability to use aircraft efficiently."

The fire is estimated at 10,562 acres, with "no containment," Davila said.

Overnight, the fire pushed 12 miles to the northeast, burning through a very dry grass crop, she said.

Officials predicted that winds out of the southwest would push the fire north and northeast beyond Canelo Pass toward Canelo—a ghost town that includes several buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places, including a one-room schoolhouse and a Forest Service ranger station.

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Residents who live south of State Route 83 near Canelo Pass Road and Forest Road 799 were evacuated. The Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office has told residents northeast of State Route 83 and Forest Road 799—known as Canelo Pass Road—to be in "set" condition, which means they should be prepared to leave their homes quickly.

Firefighting officials have established "trigger points" that establish when they will tell residents to evacuate based on current and "expected fire behavior," Davila said. 

They added that the Arizona Trail from Parker Canyon Lake to Harshaw Road is closed due to the fire.

"But as with any wildfire incident, conditions can change quickly and residents are urged to stay alert and be mindful of their surroundings."

A shelter was set up in Patagonia at the United Methodist Community Church, 387 McKeown Ave., though officials warned that while State Route 83 is open, "road conditions can change at any given time." Drivers should check 511 for updated conditions.

The Horse'n Around Rescue Ranch has offered trailers for residents who need help evacuating horses or other livestock, officials said. The ranch can be reached at 520-907-8765 or 520-266-0236. 

This is the second wildfire in Southern Arizona this season. On April 30, officials announced that the Locklin Fire had been effectively contained after burning through 112 acres of brush and grass northwest of Bisbee.

On Friday, Arizona Forestry and Fire Management announced Stage 1 fire restrictions across 10 of the state's 15 counties, including Maricopa and Yuma Counties, limiting camp fires and smoking on public lands through the rest of the summer. Further, some districts will limit target shooting because of fire conditions.

Officials also reminded the public yet again, that fireworks and exploding targets are not allowed on federal or state trust lands. In 2018, Border Patrol Agent Dennis Dickey pleaded guilty to starting a fire that ripped through nearly 50,000 acres. Dickey shot at a target containing the explosive Tannerite during a gender-reveal party starting the fire that threatened Empire Ranch and required a massive response of nearly 800 firefighters.

That fire, which became known as the Sawmill Fire, burned near Sonoita, about 10 miles to the northwest of the current San Rafael Fire.

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Sonoita Elgin Fire District