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Catalina evacuations ordered as Bighorn Fire burns north Friday

Golder Ranch-area residents told to leave homes as wildfire approaches, others nearby warned to be 'set' to evacuate

Residents near Catalina State Park must leave their homes Friday night because of the approaching Bighorn Fire, which has burned northward, officials said.

The area, near Golder Ranch Drivve, is roughly bounded by the Forest Service line on the south and east, Sutherland Trail on the west, and Rollins Road on the north, the Pima County Sheriff's Department said.

"If you are in this area, EVACUATE NOW. Move west away from the Catalina Mountains. Do not delay leaving the area," PCSD said.

Deputies will be going door to door to make contact with those affected residents who may not have received the message.

An evacuation shelter is open at Canyon del Oro High School, 25 W. Calle Concordia, in Oro Valley. Large animal sheltering will be done at Rillito Racetrack, 4502 N. 1st Avenue.

Sheriff's Department officials reiterated that there is "significant danger" from the wildfire in the area to the south of the evacuation zone, between the national forest and Lago Del Oro Parkway/North Oracle Road, stretching between Hawser Street on the north to Bowman Road on the south.

Residents there should be "Set" to evacuate, PCSD said.

Evacuation area map

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Oro Valley/Catalina 'set' area map

"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," PCSD said.

Burned area nears 9,000 acres

The area burned by the blaze hit 8,950 acres by Friday evening, Forest Service officials said.

The fire, which started with a lightning strike last 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. Friday morning, officials said it had topped 7,000 acres burned.

About 550  firefighters were working the blaze Friday, including six hotshot crews and six helicopters. Thursday and earlier in the week, about 400 firefighters had been working to stem the wildfire, which is still only about 10 percent contained.

Foothills residents allowed to return

Earlier, an evacuation order on the southern slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains was lifted, with residents told they could return home about 36 hours after they were evacuated.

The area between 1st Avenue and Alvernon along the very edge of the national forest that was designated as a "Go!" evacuation zone on Thursday has been down-graded to a "Set" zone, said a Pima County Sheriff's Department spokesman late Friday afternoon.

"Residents who evacuated may return," said Deputy Daniel Jelineo.

That zone of about 200 homes had been evacuated due to "significant danger" from the Bighorn Fire, which has been burning for a week in the rugged slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The areas between North 1st Avenue and Alvernon Road, north of Ina Road, and between Alvernon and Sabino Canyon are still being warned to be prepared for evacuations, as is the stretch of Oro Valley along the western edge of the Catalinas.

Lookie-loos asked to stay away

Authorities also asked that the public avoid the area "unless they are going to their homes or conducting business," because congestion from non-residents is "creating roadway dangers for both emergency personnel and people traveling in the area."

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"Set - be alert" is 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.

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

"Successful burnout operations conducted near Pima Canyon on Thursday" resulted in residents of the Foothills being told it was safe to return home, Forest Service officials said.

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.

Several fixed-wing aircraft, including DC-10 tankers, have been used to spread fire retardant along the steep slopes.

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

From the National Forest Service:

The northeast flank of the Bighorn Fire stretched into lower portions of Romero Canyon today, producing smoke east of Catalina State Park. Multiple helicopters and air tankers worked in the area dousing the fire and dropping retardant to slow its spread. Although firefighters are unable to engage the fire directly in that area due to the rough terrain, crews have been scouting more accessible land at higher elevations and have identified holding features in the event of continued fire spread to the northeast. While smoke is highly visible, the Oro Valley Police Department warns drivers that stopping on Oracle Road to view the fire is dangerous for the drivers, the community, and the fire apparatus moving through the area.

Tonight's operations will focus near the community of Golder Ranch, where fire activity picked up today due to extremely hot and dry conditions. Humidity recovery is expected to be higher than previous nights, but not high enough to make a significant impact on fire activity. Crews will work through the night to monitor the fire perimeter and protect values at risk.

Correction: Due to incorrect information provided by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, an earlier version of this story misspelled Sutherland Trail. Thanks to the eagle-eyed readers who pointed that out.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A plane drops fire retardant near Catalina State Park on Friday afternoon.