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Parts of Catalina Foothills evacuated for Bighorn Fire; warning area widened

The Catalina Foothills between 1st Avenue and Alvernon, along the very edge of the national forest are being evacuated due to the "significant danger" from the Bighorn Fire. The area between Alvernon and Sabino Canyon is being warned of pending evacuations, as is the stretch of Oro Valley along the western edge of the Catalinas.

With officials readying a back burn in the area between 1st Avenue and Alvernon, residents of the northern stretch closest to the mountains were ordered to leave just after 10 a.m.

"If you are in this area, EVACUATE NOW," officials said.

"Move south away from the Catalina Mountains. Do not delay leaving the area. The Pima County Sheriff’s Department will be going door to door to make contact with those affected residents who may not have received the message," officials said.

A cooling shelter has been set up at Canyon del Oro High School, 25 W. Calle Concordia, in Oro Valley.

Residents of only a portion of the area warned to be "set" to evacuate last night were told to leave their homes for a back burn Thursday morning.

Evacuation area map

But there is now "significant danger" from the fire further to the east, as the fire has grown. The area of the Catalina Foothills between Alvernon Way and Sabino Canyon Road, north of Skyline Drive, is now being warned of potential evacuations.

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That area is now in the second stage of Arizona's evacuation alert system, and residents should be "Set" and "be alert" and ready to leave their homes if notified, officials said.

The area at western base of the Santa Catalina Mountains is also being warned of possible evacuations, officials said Thursday.

The evacuation area "doesn't mean we still don't have the 'set" area' to the south of Skyline Drive, said Deputy James Allerton.

"Deputies have been knocking on doors" to inform people they need to evacuate, he said, but "do not wait for deputies if you are in the evacuation zone.

The fire, which started with a lightning strike on Friday, crept over Pusch Ridge and grown along the southern flank of the Catalinas, reaching more than 4,700 acres Thursday morning, after topping 3,200 acres Wednesday evening.

The fire has been driven by very low humidity during the day, with relative moisture in the air only about 3-6 percent, and high temperatures. The "recovery" of humidity at night is only up to about 10-15 percent, instead of a more normal 25 percent, said Todd Abel, a wildfire incident commander.

Some areas on high steep slopes were purposefully set ablaze from a helicopter earlier Thursday, Abel said, "so the fire couldn't 'get a line' and make a large run."

Fire crews are using aerial water and retardant drops to stem the fire on the steep upper slopes, where the terrain and dry piñon and juniper are cause it to burn strongly, he said.

The fire, which started with a lightning strike on Friday, crept over Pusch Ridge and grown along the southern flank of the Santa Catalina Mountains, reaching more than 4,700 acres Thursday morning, after topping 3,200 acres Wednesday evening.

From Pima County:

Ready, Set, Go is the state's evacuation alert system. The three steps encourage Arizonans to get READY by preparing now for what threatens their community, to be SET by maintaining awareness of significant danger, and to GO, to evacuate immediately when the danger is current and life-threatening.

***

Residents should consider voluntarily relocating outside the affected area with family/friends.

Residents should avoid close contact with those who are sick and should practice public health recommendations when relocating. Grab your emergency go kit. Keep in mind unique needs for your family or special equipment for pets and livestock.

Emergency services cannot guarantee they will be able to notify everyone if conditions rapidly deteriorate. Be SET to GO

Sign up for emergency alerts

About 400 firefighters have been working the blaze, including six hotshot crews and six helicopters. The wildfire is only about 10 percent contained.

From the National Forest Service:

The Bighorn Fire remained active overnight, with flames being pushed downhill by downslope winds. Temperatures up to 106 degrees today and continued low humidity will increase fire activity. The fire will again be highly visible on the front range of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  Crews will work to hold the fire perimeter and continue building fire line, tying into control features such as roads and rock outcroppings. Additional aerial resources will support the crews on the ground with water and retardant drops.

Over the next several days communities can expect to see crews and apparatus working in an around subdivisions in the Catalina Foothills. Members of the public are advised to drive with caution and leave roadways clear for emergency vehicles and equipment to pass.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

The Bighorn Fire early Thursday morning.