Wildfire near Wickenburg burns hundreds of acres

Firefighters had an 870-acre wildfire burning south of Wickenburg, Arizona about 60 percent contained today; the Cloud Fire near Vulture Mine and Whispering Ranch roads started Thursday, according to the BLM.

State Forestry was responding with aircraft, engines, and hand crews. KJZZ reported that 75 firefighters from the BLM, Wickenburg, and Buckeye Valley were also working the fire.

12NEWS had video. Forestry officials said airtankers slowed the progress of the fire, which was burning in short, dense grass.

The fire started Thursday about 16 miles from Wickenburg.

Applications being accepted for Women In Fire

Apply by August 21, 2022

BLM's all-female fire camp
Students at the all-female Women in Fire event in Oregon, October, 2019. Screenshot from BLM video.

From the US Forest Service:

The US Forest Service will be hosting the annual Women in Wildfire Training this fall in Arizona. This is a fast paced, six-day training where women from around the nation have an opportunity to participate in hands-on wildland fire training in a simulated fire assignment. Anyone is welcome to apply, no experience necessary. After the completion of the training, students become certified as FFT2 (Firefighter Type 2) and will be provided with information on how to apply in USAjobs if interested in working on a fire crew.

The camp will be held at the Pinedale Work Center on the Lakeside District of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Arizona. The dates for the training are Sept 23rd-25th and Sept 30th-Oct 2nd. Participants must attend both timeframes. Time and travel are paid, and equipment is provided. Apply by August 21, 2022.

If you have any questions, contact:
Naomi Corkish (naomi.corkish@usda.gov, 928-333-6247) or
Matt Sigg (matthew.sigg@usda.gov, 316-617-9898).

Women In Fire, 2022

Opinion: With fires in Flagstaff and northern Arizona, it’s not a matter of if, but when

Tunnel Fire, April 19, 2022
Tunnel Fire north of Flagstaff, AZ, April 19, 2022, as seen from O’Leary Lookout in Northern Arizona. USFS photo.

This article first appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun. It is used here with their permission and the author’s.

Arizona Daily Sun Editor’s note: This is a bit unusual, to run a column on the front page, but I thought Mark’s perspective from his more than two decades working with Hotshots was a valuable read. He wrote this on a personal basis and not on behalf of any fire or forest management organization.

By Mark Adams

This has been a rough year for extreme fires in Flagstaff.

Before most of the U.S. Forest Service seasonal workforce was even finished with their mandatory two weeks of training, the Tunnel Fire started in one of the windiest areas of the San Francisco Peaks, during one of the windiest springs I can remember. In addition to that, it was located in the Schultz burn scar, which, at 12 years old, was primed for a fast-moving and difficult-to-contain fire due to the tall grass and kiln-dried logs that are easily receptive to any hot ember that decides to land on it. The Tunnel is what one seasoned “fire dog” referred to as a career fire — meaning that experiencing a fire like that happens once a career, if at all.

Amazingly, this fire was in mid-April, and sadly, many structures were lost, despite the huge, aggressive firefighting effort. The Tunnel Fire was unprecedented for the amount of damage caused in that short amount of time. In a typical year the Coconino averages around 175 fires, and nearly all of them are caught early and mostly go unnoticed by the average Flagstaffian. This summer we have had around 23 fires already and two of them have become career fires. Both escalated to become the No. 1 priority fires in the nation, the Tunnel and now the Pipeline Fire.

I moved to Flagstaff 28 years ago from the East Coast and like most other Flagstaff transplants, the Peaks drew me here and have been my sacred place. The Peaks are the heart and soul of Flagstaff; some might say they are the heart and soul of the state. When I moved here, I knew nothing about wildfires. The little I did know was from what I saw on the news about the Yellowstone fires of 1988. Like most people, I didn’t understand why fire managers were letting Yellowstone burn and not putting them out; I was mad that all those forests were burning. If the internet had been around, I would have been a loud critic of the Forest Service, just like so many people today commenting in online forums like they are experts in forest and fire management.

Fast forward many years later, after a long career as a Hotshot, I now better understand wildfire and the critical role it plays throughout our Western forests. All of the forests are flammable and will burn, eventually. The work we do and our efforts each year are done in hopes that they burn under our terms.

During my career, my crew and I have been emergency-shifted from one fire to another two times. The first time was on an afternoon in 2010 when I was a Mormon Lake Hotshot and we were on the Tecolote Fire in New Mexico. The radio sounded out from Incident Command: “Get Flagstaff and Mormon Lake hotshots off the mountain and come to ICP and demob immediately, there is a situation on the Peaks in Flagstaff.” In a matter of hours (which is lightning fast in federal government time), we were out of the Santa Fe Wilderness and on the road home to help fight the Schultz Fire. The next day we were briefing with fire managers at the Chevron station on Highway 89. We would be deployed behind the homes of Timberline and tasked with doing whatever we could to protect them.

History repeated itself this week. While on the Cerro Bandera Fire south of Grants, New Mexico, I received a text from Flag Dispatch of a new start. These texts come daily and normally I read them and say to myself, “Oh, they’ll catch that one” — because we do 98% of the time. This time was different. Upon checking the text, I immediately realized this one could be a problem — it’s windy and it’s in a bad spot. After making a few phone calls, once again my crew and I were quickly released and on the way back home to protect the mountain we and so many others love so much. We made it to the fire seven hours after it was first reported, lightning fast considering we started that day in a different time zone.

Pipeline Fire north of Flagstaff June 13, 2022, by @russdussel
Pipeline Fire north of Flagstaff June 13, 2022, by @russdussel

Luckily that night we were able to help others piece together a plan and save many homes through quick action and, ironically, having the already burned ground of the Tunnel Fire helping us. Had that fire scar not been there, the Pipeline Fire would have destroyed many more homes than the Tunnel Fire had.

The next few days, grueling work was put in by my crew and many other crews from around the nation. I am forever grateful to the three Hotshot crews from California that were with us on the ridge below Fremont Peak. Ninety people hiked in and out every day, working some tough ground that spanned from 8,500 to 12,000 feet in elevation. The air was thin, the hazards were too numerous to count and if someone got hurt, medical extraction would be challenging. The alternative to this option was not good. Had we not been up to the work, the fire would have continued to the west and with the strong westerly winds gone, it would have torched the entire mountain. All of Flagstaff would have been buried under sandbags for the foreseeable future.

Flagstaff dodged another bullet. We got lucky — lucky the firefighting resources were available, lucky they recognized the situation, lucky we were willing to accept the risk of injury or worse. It’s coming. It’s only a matter of time. All of the Peaks, minus the rocks, are flammable and will burn someday.

End of story.

Recognizing and accepting this will only help to protect our Peaks. I say this because we have altered the natural cycle of fire for far too long. Now we have one of the most sacred places in the Southwest that is primed and more than ready for a catastrophic fire. Our challenge is to ensure that it doesn’t burn all at once and try to stay as close to the natural cycle as possible. And that natural cycle includes stand-replacing fires. We have a long way to go in protecting not only the Peaks but our forests in general, and it is time that we wake up and do what needs to be done. Everyone talks a good game, but we all can do more to ensure that we have healthy ecosystems to live in for generations to come.

There are ways that we, as a community, can limit the catastrophic results of the Big One:
1. Allow for day use only on the Peaks and Dry Lake Hills near Highway 89, 180 and across Forest Road 418.
2. Follow all campfire restrictions.
3. Educate the influx of out-of-towners moving here, often unaware of our wildfire-dependent and prone ecosystem.
4. Do everything in your abilities to prepare your home/property for wildfire. The 10 years you prepare before a fire are far more important than the 10 minutes or even hours before a fire — no matter how many engines, crews, airtankers and helicopters are available.
5. Support and obey any forest closures and don’t whine about it!
6. Get used to smoke! Support aggressive, forward-thinking fire management, including managing fires under the right conditions on the Peaks and across the forest.
7. Reward and support active fire and forest management, including prescribed burning, even if there is an occasional bad outcome (99.8% of all prescribed fires are successful).
8. Question managers that do not take risks, by choosing the safe route — putting all forest fires out small, never managing a fire for resource benefit and not conducting as many prescribed fires as possible. They are just kicking the can down the road.

The Peaks are going to burn again and I would much rather they burn when we say so. Not when a campfire or burning toilet paper decides to get one going in the wrong spot on the wrong day. The choice to manage a fire or light a torch for prescribed fire is not one that we take lightly, the responsibility is huge! Things sometimes go wrong despite the best intentions. But the alternative of doing nothing has only one outcome and it’s not good.

Remember, it’s not if, it’s when.

Mark Adams has been a Hotshot on the Coconino National Forest since 1999, working on all three crews: Blue Ridge, Mormon Lake and Flagstaff Hotshots. He is currently the superintendent of the Flagstaff Hotshots. He wrote this as a concerned resident of the Flagstaff area — not as a representative of the Forest Service or Coconino National Forest.

All but four of the Kitt Peak Observatory structures have so far survived the Contreras Fire

In southern Arizona

Contreras Fire 3-D map, north end, June 18, 2022
Contreras Fire 3-D map, north end, June 18, 2022.

Firefighters have made progress on the Contreras Fire in Southern Arizona.

It started from a lightning strike on June 11 and is being managed by a Type 2 Eastern Area Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Brian Pisarek. It is 20 miles north of the US/Mexico border 16 miles east of Sells, AZ. Sunday morning the team said it had burned 18,843 acres.

To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Contreras Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

A statement Sunday afternoon from the Kitt Peak National Observatory said that while they are not out of danger, the situation is improving. All of the telescope domes are still standing but four non-scientific structures (dormitories and other support buildings) were destroyed on the morning of June 17. Astronomical facilities and instrumentation appear intact, but assessments of damage to equipment will only begin once conditions allow for safe entry into the area.

Contreras Fire, north end, June 18, 2022
Map of the north end of the Contreras Fire. The red line was the perimeter at the end of the day on June 18, 2022. The white line was the perimeter about 24 hours before.

Because of reduced fire activity on the south and east sides, some of the firefighting resources in those areas are being moved north to Kitt Peak to assist with ongoing fire suppression northeast of the observatories.

The incident management team intends to monitor, using hand crews and engines, the north side of the fire along Highway 86, toward the Pan Tak and Cowtown communities. The fire staff is working on a structure protection plan for these communities. The western perimeter of the fire is being allowed to burn down the slope into what the team described as more advantageous terrain that will allow crews to safely engage the fire.

Conteras Fire, June 18, 2022
Contreras Fire, June 18, 2022. Photo via Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Over the last two days clouds and higher humidities have moderated the fire behavior, but Sunday afternoon the cloud cover decreased and the fire became more active as the humidity dropped to 23 percent with 13 mph winds gusting to 30 mph out of the southwest.

The photos below are courtesy of Catherine Sienko, a professional photographer from the area.

Conteras Fire, 2:30 p.m. June 17, 2022
Contreras Fire, 2:30 p.m. June 17, 2022. Catherine Sienko.
Conteras Fire, June 17, 2022. Catherine Sienko.
Contreras Fire, June 17, 2022. Catherine Sienko.

Contreras Fire reaches the observatories at Kitt Peak

Southern Arizona

Updated at 4:57 p.m. MDT June 18, 2022

At about 1 p.m. MDT on Saturday Planning Operations Section Chief Trainee Kevin Wilson said none of the 20+ telescopes at the Kitt Peak observatory were affected when the Contreras Fire ran up the steep brush-covered slopes to the site at 2 a.m. Friday. Two primary and two secondary structures burned, however. A separate report from the incident management team indicated that those four were “non-scientific buildings.”

Two Hotshot Crews (Helena and San Juan), five engines, Division Supervisors, and Safety Officers remained at the observatories as the fire approached very early Friday morning.

To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Contreras Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

Those firefighters “…had a solid 12 to 14 hour firefight,” Mr. Wilson said. “They were cut off when the fire impinged [Highway 386]. They had a very good safety area to work in. They had to disengage for a brief period of time from the fire and then re engaged when it was appropriate and were successful in saving the telescopes and the majority of the complex. This is a real heroic effort by these folks.”

Congratulations to these firefighters for overcoming what must have been an extremely challenging assignment considering the fuels and steep slopes surrounding the telescopes and other structures.

On the north end of the fire along Highway 86 near the Pan Tak and Cowtown communities, Saturday’s fire behavior is being monitored closely with the addition of extra crews and engines. There will be opportunities for direct attack by crews and air support due to moderate terrain and sparse vegetation.

The weather at the Sasabe weather station 11 miles southeast of the fire recorded moderate conditions early Saturday afternoon —  38 to 45 percent relative humidity, 90 degrees, and 13 mph winds out of the south-southwest under partly cloudy skies.

Updated at 12:19 p.m. MDT June 18, 2022

The staff from the Kitt Peak observatory provided this brief update at about noon on Saturday:

We’re hopeful that the worst may have passed for Kitt Peak National Observatory, but fire officials warn that the mountain is at risk for another week. The fire perimeter moved north of the peak, damaging the access road with passage very difficult. NOIRLab staff, escorted by the fire team, hope to be able to visit the summit today to begin damage assessment; we will provide an update later today.

Updated at 9:45 a.m. MDT June 18, 2022

Contreras Fire, June 17, 2022 Arizona
Contreras Fire, June 17, 2022. Inciweb.

The scheduled mapping flight for the Contreras Fire Friday night had to be cancelled due to weather, most likely clouds that obscured the view from the aircraft. A flight Friday afternoon determined it had burned 17,646 acres. At 2 a.m. MDT Saturday a satellite detected through a hole in the clouds heat west of the Kitt Peak observatories and west of Highway 386.

The fire reached the general area of the observatories at 2 a.m. Friday, but no information has been released about any possible damage to the telescopes or dozens of structures.

The Sasabe weather station 11 miles southeast of the fire recorded 0.03 inch of rain Friday that occurred around 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. The relative humidity rose to 71 percent Friday night. The forecast for Saturday is mostly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms through the day, with a high of about 86 degrees, a relative humidity in the low 30s, and winds out of the southwest at 13 to 18 mph with gusts to 26.

Updated at 6:48 p.m. MDT June 17, 2022

Map of the Contreras Fire June 17, 2022 Kitt Peak observatory
Map of the north end of the Contreras Fire at Kitt Peak at about 3:30 p.m. MDT June 17, 2022. The facilities associated with the observatories appear as white objects.

The Contreras Fire was mapped in the mid-afternoon on Friday June 17. The new information confirms reports from authorities that the fire reached the observatory facilities at Kitt Peak but it is not possible to determine from this data if there was damage to the structures. The fire came very close to the primary large cluster of buildings near the peak, as well as the other facilities to the southwest north of Highway 386, including the UArizona 12-meter Telescope.

North end of the Contreras Fire, Kitt Peak, 3-D map
North end of the Contreras Fire, Kitt Peak, 3-D map at approximately 3:30 p.m. MDT June 17, 2022, looking north.
Map of the Contreras Fire June 17, 2022
Map of the Contreras Fire. The red line was the perimeter at about 3:30 p.m. MDT June 17, 2022. The white line was the perimeter about 24 hours before.

The growth on Thursday and Friday brings the size up to approximately 17,000 acres.

3:52 p.m. MDT June 17, 2022

Contreras Fire burning on the slopes of the Kitt Peak
Part of the Contreras Fire burning on the slopes of the Kitt Peak mountain on Thursday evening 16 June 2022. Credit: KPNO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA.

The Contreras Fire in Southern Arizona burned up the steep brush-covered slopes of Kitt Peak Mountain at 2 a.m. Friday crossing Kitt Peak Road (Road 386) and reaching the Kitt Peak National Observatory, a complex of more than 20 telescopes, one of the largest gatherings of astronomical instruments in the northern hemisphere. The Observatory staff said Friday, “We are working with the firefighters at the site to assess the damage and will share details about the facilities as we learn more. We remain in an active fire situation with rapidly changing conditions. The fire crested the southwest ridge where the Hiltner 2.4-meter Telescope, McGraw-Hill 1.3-meter Telescope, Very Long Baseline Array Dish, and UArizona 12-meter Telescope are located.

Contreras Fire
Contreras Fire burning on the slopes of Kitt Peak mountain early in the morning Friday June 17, 2022. In the foreground is NRAO’s Very Long Baseline Array Dish. Credit: KPNO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

The Contreras Fire started from a lightning strike on June 11. It is being managed by a Type 2 Eastern Area Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Brian Pisarek. It is 20 miles north of the US/Mexico border and 16 miles east of Sells, AZ. As of Thursday morning it had burned about 11,500 acres.

Judging from photos, it appears that the copious fuel below and near the structures would under hot, dry, and windy conditions cause a fire moving up the slopes to create massive amounts of heat, long flame lengths, and thousands of lofted burning embers.

Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak
File photo of Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Credit: KPNO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld.

Clouds Thursday night prevented the scheduled infrared mapping flight, so we do not have an updated map.

Thursday night the decision was made to remove some of the trees and brush near the observatory below the southern ridge. Fire crews also cleared brush around individual domes, critical infrastructure, and propane tanks.

At 3 a.m. MDT on Friday a satellite detected heat near the observatories on the south and southwest sides of the mountain. It also detected rapid spread on the east side of the fire south of Alambre Valley.

Contreras Fire Reaches Kitt Peak National Observatory
Contreras Fire burning on the slopes of Kitt Peak mountain Thursday evening June 16, 2022.

Five helicopters have been assigned to support suppression efforts today. Dense shrub cover below Kitt Peak is allowing the fire to make rapid upslope growth. Electrical supply to the Observatory has been suspended by the utility provider to mitigate unintentional sparking. More hand crews have been ordered and are expected to arrive today.

On the south end of the fire near Elkhorn Ranch, structure protection crews are utilizing fire control lines, sprinkler systems and other suppression methods to ensure the safety of the ranch community, visitors and its inholdings.

When an updated map becomes available we will add it to this article. Below is one of the maps in the June 16 article.

3-D map of the Contreras Fire
3-D map of the Contreras Fire looking north at 10:53 p.m. MDT June 15, 2022.


Very high temperatures and low humidity affect Contreras Fire in Southern Arizona

South of the observatories on Kitt Peak

5:58 p.m. MDT June 16, 2022

3-D map of the Contreras Fire
3-D map of the Contreras Fire looking north at 10:53 p.m. MDT June 15, 2022.

Firefighters on the Contreras Fire in Southern Arizona had their work cut out for them Thursday. They were battling the wildfire on the hottest day so far of this year. The temperature at the Sasabe weather station southeast of the fire topped out at 106 degrees while the relative humidity dropped to 5 percent. The wind was out of the south and west at 5 mph gusting at 12 to 23 mph.

To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Contreras Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

In the video below the massive dust devil indicates an unstable atmosphere which can indicate conditions conducive to a plume-driven rapidly spreading wildfire.


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A post shared by Brave_Guardian17 (@brave_guardian17)

The fire started from lightning on a remote ridge of the Baboquivari Mountains, north of the Baboquivari Peak on the Tohono O’odham Nation on Saturday, 11 June 2022. It is burning grass and brush in steep and rugged terrain that is difficult for firefighters to access. Hot and dry winds from the south and southwest are pushing the fire to the north and northeast. On Monday June 13 it had burned about 500 acres, and by Thursday morning it had grown to 11,500 acres as it moved through the drought-stressed vegetation.

Contreras Fire
Smoke visible from the Contreras Fire as seen from Kitt Peak on Thursday June 16, 2022. The image is looking south from the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter telescope catwalk. KPNO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

The fire was very active Thursday afternoon, spreading to the north, closer to Kitt Peak.

Thursday morning it was 1.5 miles south of the complex of observatories at Kitt Peak, 20 miles north of the US/Mexico border, and 16 miles east of Sells, AZ.

A Type 2 Eastern Area Incident Management Team assumed command of the Contreras Fire on June 16, under the direction of Incident Commander Brian Pisarek.

To date, aviation resources and retardant dropped from aircraft have had limited success due to heavy smoke, high winds and extremely dry fuels. Smoke from the fire is visible from Sells and Three Points, and residual effects have been reported near Tucson.

Map Contreras Fire at 2:01 p.m. MDT June 16, 2022.
Map of the Contreras Fire. The red dots represent heat detected by a satelltie at 2:01 p.m. MDT June 16, 2022. The red line was the perimeter at 10:53 p.m. MDT June 15, 2022.