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Bighorn Fire evacuees can return to homes; Sheriff warns Foothills to stay 'set' for blaze

Danger zone still stretches across Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley mountain edge

Update: Catalina State Park area evacuated ordered as Bighorn Fire burns north Friday

Residents of the northern edge of the Catalina Foothills who were ordered to leave Thursday morning can go back to their homes, officials said late Friday afternoon.

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.

"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."

Evacuation area map

"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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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:

Crews will experience the highest temperatures yet today, topping 107 degrees, with a chance of dry thunderstorms that could create erratic winds in the afternoon. Firefighters are prepared to execute additional firing operations today in the area of Pima Canyon if conditions allow. Firefighters working in and around communities that border the forest will be continuing their work to the east, near Ventana Canyon. These specialized crews assess potential threats to homes and infrastructure, identify access routes and develop contingency plans in the event of fire spreading into the area.

Overnight, the fire grew to the northeast past Buster Spring into Montrose canyon. Yesterday’s work near Pima Canyon held overnight, with minimal fire growth in that area. Fire did creep over retardant lines near upper western edge of Ventana Canyon. Air tanker retardant drops are one tool in fighting fire but are most effective when paired with crews working on the ground to construct fire line. This continues to be a challenge given the steep, rocky terrain.  

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1 comment on this story

Jun 13, 2020, 4:12 am
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ARS 27-369 says there should be a plan, but it doesn’t “order” anyone to evacuate nor require it nor list a penalty.

Can someone please show where there’s an “order” we “must obey” to evacuate when told by some guy with red and blue lights?

Also when that same guy says “now it’s ok to come back” but he didn’t say it to me, but the newspaper online said he did, does that make it ok?

I checked the PCSD website and they don’t say anything like any of this.  Can anyone make heads or tails of what the law says?  Thanks.

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