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Arizona wildfire prompts evacuation of Tucson foothills

June 12, 2020 GMT
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In this Wednesday evening, June 10, 2020 photo, the Bighorn Fire breaks onto the southern slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains and burns over a pair of homes in the foothills just east of the Finger Rock Trailhead in Tucson, Ariz. Pima County authorities have advised residents of foothills area on the northern outskirts of metro Tucson to be prepared to evacuate because of a lightning-sparked wildfire in nearby mountains. (Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star via AP)
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In this Wednesday evening, June 10, 2020 photo, the Bighorn Fire breaks onto the southern slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains and burns over a pair of homes in the foothills just east of the Finger Rock Trailhead in Tucson, Ariz. Pima County authorities have advised residents of foothills area on the northern outskirts of metro Tucson to be prepared to evacuate because of a lightning-sparked wildfire in nearby mountains. (Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Sheriff’s deputies were going door to door Thursday in foothill neighborhoods overlooking Tucson, Arizona, calling on residents of nearly 300 homes to evacuate as firefighters burned away excess brush in the path of a wildfire.

The tactic is intended to deprive the fire of fuel and slow it so firefighters can keep the flames from reaching homes south of Coronado National Forest.

The fire, sparked Friday night by lightning, had blackened around 7 square miles (19 square kilometres) and was only 10% contained.

“As the fire gets closer to the homes, we have hotshots getting behind the communities to create firebreaks, using hand tools, chainsaws to remove any fuel for the fire,” said Adam Jarrold, public information officer for agencies battling the blaze.

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He said the fire had burned to within a mile of structures, but no buildings had yet been damaged. He did not have an estimate of how many homes were threatened.

The Pima County Office of Emergency Management and the Sheriff’s Department were warning of significant danger and urged residents not to delay in leaving the area. They said residents should consider voluntarily relocating outside the affected area with family or friends.

Several downtown hotels were offering discounted rates to people who were evacuating, and the Pima Animal Care Center was making space available in its kennels to board pets from families who need to leave their homes.

“Our firefighters are working real hard and we have local fire trucks lined up to help,” Jarrold said. “Firefighters from all over the region and all over the country are coming to help with this now.”

As of Wednesday night, there were nearly 400 firefighters battling the flames and the number was growing, Jarrold said.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has granted Arizona’s request for money to help fight the fire.

Firefighters on the ground were being assisted by air tankers spreading retardant and helicopters carrying water buckets.

Fire officials in recent days have expressed frustration with private drones being operated by people in the area, forcing firefighting aircraft to land.

“When people fly drones, we can’t fly,” Todd Abel, operations chief for the team fighting the blaze, said. “We can’t help our firefighters on the ground.”

Catalina State Park is closed and access to trails in the area is restricted.

Most of the western United States currently is experiencing extreme dryness or drought, creating challenging conditions for wildfire season, Bryan Henry, meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center, said in a recent fire season outlook.

The dry, hot weather and the steep, rocky topography have been the main challenges in fighting the fire near Tucson, Jarrold said. Temperatures have pushed past 100 degrees (38 Celsius) and the humidity was in single digits.

“We cannot put the firefighters down into the main part of the fire because we cannot do it safely,” Jarrold said.

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