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Elgin Bridge Fire downgraded to 2K acres as containment lines hold

Blaze southeast of Tucson is 15% contained, evacuation orders rescinded

Despite "red-flag" conditions Tuesday, firefighters were able to attack the Elgin Bridge Fire and established new containment lines keeping the wildfire from overrunning ranch houses and high-voltage power lines in the area.

Nearly 200 people continue to attack the wildfire, containing the its western front near Elgin, about 45 miles southeast of Tucson. However, the fire remains "active at the head," said Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for Arizona's Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Overnight, the fire was mapped and officials released a new estimate downgrading the area of grasslands and chaparral consumed from around 4,000 acres to 2,149 acres, Davila said. The decrease in acreage is "due to more accurate mapping," she said.

The fire is 15 percent contained, she said Wednesday morning.

The fire has been confined within the Mustang Mountain range, just south of State Route 82 and west of Babacomari Ranch Road. Firefighters hope to expand containment lines and keep the fire hemmed in its current footprint of tall grass, brush, and chaparral along difficult terrain in the Mustang Mountains, just northeast of Elgin. On Tuesday, aircraft continued to work fire-lines along with ground resources to help slow the fire's spread and "allow hand crews to safely continue building containment line," Davila said.

"When safe, firefighters continue to go direct by utilizing firing operations to clear out un-burned fuel ahead of the fire," she said, slowing the fire's growth and movement. "Crews are trying to get ahead of the fire and establish direct line construction to keep the fire from progressing toward the highway and scattered ranch houses ahead of the fire," she said.

While officials worried the wildfire could overrun kilovolt high-voltage power lines supplying electricity to Fort Huachuca and Sierra Vista, the threat has "significantly decreased as the fire shifted back to the north and away" from the area. "However, firefighters continue to provide structure protection to that high priority infrastructure as well as nearby structures," Davila said.

Officials said that evacuation orders have been lifted, but residents should remain alert and be prepared to "evacuate in a moment’s notice as wildfire conditions can change rapidly." 

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On Monday the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office ordered residents of 11 properties to evacuate, but following Tuesday night's efforts, Davila said the evacuation, or "GO" order was lifted for residences along Mustang Ranch Road, east of Elgin.

The fire started Monday morning, and its cause remains under investigation.

On Tuesday, Davila said the grasslands are "unseasonably dry, thus fire behavior at times, can be erratic and extreme," and warned Tuesday's weather could "escalate fire behavior and challenge efforts to suppress" during a red flag warning issued for southeastern Arizona.

"As with more recent fires in Southern Arizona over the last few weeks, the Elgin Bridge Fire has been wind-driven, pushing through tall and short grass, brush, and chaparral," Davila said. 

Earlier this month, the San Rafael Fire burned 11,620 acres through the San Rafael Valley, extending from the U.S.-Mexico border to Canelo Hills Road about 10 miles southwest of the current Elgin Bridge Fire.

As fire season worsens this summer, officials instituted new restrictions on state and federal lands, limiting campfires and smoking across most of Arizona. On Wednesday, all southeastern Arizona Wildland Fire Management entities—including Arizona Fire and Forestry, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, BLM, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and the National Park Service—will implement campfire and smoking restrictions in southeastern Arizona.

This covers state trust land in Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Pinal, and Santa Cruz counties along with BLM lands. Similarly, the entire Coronado National Forest is covered by the restrictions, officials said, as well as Saguaro National Park.

From May 26 until rescinded, visitors to public lands may not have campfires, and cannot use charcoal, coal or elevated grills. This includes fires in developed campgrounds or improved sites, officials said.

Smoking is also prohibited, except within an enclosed vehicle or building. 

While hunting remains allowed under state, federal or tribal laws and regulations, target shooting is blocked. Similarly, officials are prohibiting the use of motor-vehicles away from designated roadways, as well as welding, and using explosives.

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