Wildfire burns 300 acres near Prescott, Arizona

Prescott Valley Fire Arizona
Firefighters conducted burn outs to secure portions of the fireline on the Prescott Valley Fire. Photo by Arizona State Forestry.

(UPDATED at 1:33 p.m. MDT January 22, 2019)

Arizona State Forestry reported at 1:14 p.m. MDT that the fire has burned 459 acres. Firefighters are mostly mopping up and monitoring the perimeter.


(Originally published at 9:40 a.m. MST January 22, 2019)

A fire that broke out Monday at about 1 p.m. MST burned 300 acres in Prescott Valley along highway 89A seven miles north of Prescott, Arizona.

Approximately 50 firefighters battling the blaze during strong winds were able to stop the spread within a couple of hours as it burned near Glassford Hill.

One lane of highway 89A was closed for a while, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Prescott Valley Fire Arizona
Prescott Valley Fire. Photo by Arizona State Forestry.
Prescott Valley Fire Arizona
Prescott Valley Fire. Photo by Arizona State Forestry.

Forest Service releases video of explosion that started 46,000-acre fire

A U.S. Border Patrol agent pleaded guilty to starting the Sawmill Fire southeast of Tucson by shooting at an exploding target

The U.S. Forest Service has released a video of the exploding target that started what became the 46,000-acre Sawmill Fire southeast of Tucson in 2017.

Border Patrol agent Dennis Dickey has pleaded guilty to starting the fire. He was holding an off duty party to celebrate his wife’s pregnancy at which the gender of his baby was revealed. He mixed colored powder into a Tannerite exploding target which would show blue or pink smoke when shot with a rifle. The target exploded as planned, revealing the blue powder, but it started what became the Sawmill Fire. A witness recorded video of the explosion.

exploding target starts fire wildfire
A screenshot from the video below showing the exploding target that started what became the 46,000-acre Sawmill fire.

Agent Dickey set up the dangerous device at a location where it was surrounded by dry grass and mesquite trees. At the end of the video a voice can be heard shouting twice, “Start packing up!”.

The video obtained by the Arizona Daily Star from the U.S. Forest Service through the Freedom of Information Act  is below.

One of the commenters where the video is posted on YouTube, wrote, “I feel bad for the poor baby boy who’s inheriting those genes.”

Agent Dickey said he attempted to put out the fire but when that failed, he reported it. At one point during the next week at least 799 firefighters were working to put out the fire, which ran up costs of approximately $8.2 million according to the May 5, 2017 national Situation Report.

On April 23, 2017, the day the fire started, the Hopkins weather station not far from where the fire began near Madera Canyon, recorded a high temperature of 80 degrees, 11 mph WSW winds gusting to 25, and 6 percent relative humidity. The weather station is at 7,100 feet and the location of the party where the fire started is most likely around 4,000 feet. If correct, this would put the temperature at the fire origin between 90 and 100 degrees.

news release from the U.S. attorney’s office said Agent Dickey will make an initial payment of $100,000, then make monthly payments after that. According to the Arizona Daily Star and the Green Valley News, he agreed in court to pay $500 a month for the next 20 years, which adds up to $120,000, for a total of $220,000 including the first payment. He also will be sentenced to 5 years of probation and agreed to participate in a public service announcement with the U.S. Forest Service concerning the cause of the Sawmill fire.

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user explode when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years, have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. After the ingredients are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Border Patrol agent pleads guilty to starting 46,000-acre fire with exploding target

A Border Patrol agent pleaded guilty Friday to starting the Sawmill Fire that burned 46,000 acres southeast of Tucson, Arizona in 2017. Dennis Dickey was holding an off duty party to celebrate his wife’s pregnancy at which the gender of his baby was revealed. On April 23 he mixed colored powder into a Tannerite exploding target which would show blue or pink smoke when shot with a rifle, according to his attorney, Sean Chapman, as reported by the Arizona Daily Star. The target exploded as planned and started what became the Sawmill Fire. A witness recorded a video of the explosion.

A news release from the U.S. attorney’s office says Agent Dickey will make an initial payment of $100,000, then make monthly payments after that. According to the Arizona Daily Star and the Green Valley News, he agreed in court to pay $500 a month for the next 20 years, which adds up to $120,000, for a total of $220,000. He also will be sentenced to 5 years of probation and agreed to participate in a public service announcement with the U.S. Forest Service concerning the cause of the Sawmill fire.

The off-duty agent could not be charged with arson since it was not a willful act. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of causing a fire without a permit, which may allow him to keep his job as a Border Patrol Agent.

Agent Dickey said he attempted to put out the fire but when that failed, he reported it. At one point during the next week at least 799 firefighters were working to put out the fire, which ran up costs of approximately $8.2 million according to the May 5, 2017 national Situation Report.

satellite map Sawmill Fire Arizona
A satellite photographed the darkened outline of the Sawmill Fire east of Green Valley, Arizona on April 26, 2017. The red dots represent heat.

On April 23, 2017, the day the fire started, the Hopkins weather station not far from where the fire began near Madera Canyon, recorded a high temperature of 80 degrees, 11 mph WSW winds gusting to 25, and 6 percent relative humidity. The weather station is at 7,100 feet and the location of the party where the fire started is most likely around 4,000 feet. If correct, this would put the temperature at the fire origin between 90 and 100 degrees.

In court, Agent Dickey told the judge, “It was a complete accident”.

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user explode when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years, have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen. The Missoulian reported that several years ago a woman in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about 150 feet away. In Georgia in 2016 David Pressley’s leg was blown off by an exploding target that he placed in a lawn mower.

After the ingredients are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and is subject to the regulatory requirements in 27 CFR, Part 555.

Granite Mountain Hotshots — five years ago today

Granite Mountain HotshotsWhen I think about the June 30, 2013 tragedy where 19 firefighters were killed battling a fire near Yarnell, Arizona, I remember Abraham Lincoln’s Address as he and others dedicated a military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where thousands of soldiers died almost exactly 155 years ago, July 1-3, 1863, in what has been described as the turning point of the Civil War. We don’t even know for sure the number killed, with estimates ranging from 7,000 to 8,000.

The President was honoring those who were killed in the battle. The men fought each other, the North vs. the South. Wildland firefighters, thankfully, don’t fight each other, but there are similarities between fighting wars and fighting wildfires.

That day in 1863 the President said in part:

“…It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

It is difficult to find positive outcomes in a mass casualty incident like the Yarnell Hill Fire. But one thing that is doable, is to at least learn some lessons, and more importantly, use them to take action to reduce the number of fatalities on wildland fires. We will never eliminate all risks of firefighting, but proactive management locally, at the national level within the agencies, and in Congress, can make a difference.

Excerpt from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:


“…Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Barrel Fire southeast of Tucson burns over 100 acres

Above:  Air Tanker 167, an RJ85, drops on the Barrel Fire, May 16, 2018. USFS photo by Sean Cox.

Several fire departments suppressed a fire, or possibly multiple fires, along Highway 83 approximately 60 air miles southeast of Tucson Wednesday.

The highway was completely closed for a while; later one lane was opened before the highway fully reopened after 10 p.m.

The fire reportedly burned about 146 acres.

wildfire barrel fire tucson
A helicopter assists firefighters along Highway 83 at the Barrel Fire southeast of Tucson May 16, 2018. Corona de Tucson FD photo.

Pinery Fire causes evacuation of Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona

Above: Map showing the location of the Pinery Fire in Southeast Arizona. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:57 p.m. MDT May 11, 2018.

(Originally published at 8:17 p.m. MDT May 12, 2018)

A fire that started at 1:30 p.m. Saturday has forced the evacuation and closure of Chiricahua National Monument in Southeast Arizona. The cause is under investigation but it started on private land, moved onto the Chiricahua National Monument, and has since spread north onto the Coronado National Forest.

Our very unofficial estimate based on 3:57 p.m satellite data is that at that time it had burned approximately 400 acres. At 8 p.m. local time the National Park Service estimated the size at 675 acres.

Red Flag conditions on Saturday, including wind gusts up to 37 mph, are making containment difficult. The forecast for Sunday includes more Red Flag Warnings for the fire area with 86 degrees, 14 percent relative humidity, mostly sunny skies, and southwest winds of 13 to 25 mph with gusts up to 37 again.

The fire is under joint command of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, the National Park Service, and the Coronado National Forest.

Multiple aircraft have been ordered, including 5 single engine air tankers, 4  large air tankers, and 3 helicopters. Seven engines, 2 initial attack crews, and 2 hotshot crews are working on the ground trying to stop forward progress. Additional resources have been ordered, including four more hotshot crews. The fire is 32 miles southeast of Willcox, 20 miles south of Interstate 10, 19 miles west of the Arizona/New Mexico border, and 44 miles north of the international border.