Off duty Border Patrol agent connected to origin of 46,000-acre Sawmill Fire

(Updated at 1:15 p.m. MDT April 28, 2017)

The U.S. Border Patrol has confirmed that one of their off duty agents is being investigated in the cause of the Sawmill Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres 23 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona. In an email to several media outlets the public affairs office of the agency wrote:

We are aware that the Sawmill Fire investigation involves an off-duty Tucson Sector Border Patrol agent. The agent was involved in recreational shooting and immediately reported the fire after it begun. All questions regarding the investigation should be directed to the state fire agency.


Sawmill Fire
Firefighters conduct burnout operations On the Sawmill Fire along Empire Ranch Road on April 26, 2017. Inciweb photo.

The Green Valley News reported earlier that multiple sources they spoke with said a recreational shooter using exploding targets started what became the Sawmill Fire. Those reports also said the shooter tried to put it out, but when that failed, he notified authorities.

Exploding targets are known to have started numerous fires and are banned many areas.

On Thursday resources assigned to the Sawmill Fire included 799 personnel, 16 hand crews, 67 engines, and 5 helicopters. The suppression cost to date was $3 million.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged exploding targets.

Firefighters make progress on the Sawmill Fire in Arizona

Above: Map of the Sawmill Fire east of Green Valley, Arizona as of April 26, 2017. 

Firefighters battling the 46,954-acre Sawmill Fire 23 miles southeast of Tucson have been able to slow the spread over the last two days in spite of strong winds. Satellite imagery from early Friday morning did not show any large concentrations of heat over the previous 24 hours. This does not mean the fire is out, and there is no doubt a lot of line building and mopup work still has to be accomplished.

For the last two days the Sawmill Fire has been most active on the northeast side where aircraft have been assisting firefighters on the ground to slow the spread.

A Red Flag Warning for strong winds is still in place for the fire area as well as most of southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico.

On Thursday the Arizona Department of Transportation reopened Arizona Highway 83 south of Interstate 10.

The Pima County Office of Emergency Management has lifted the pre-evacuation order for residents on the west side of Arizona Highway 83. Residents in the Hilton Ranch area remain under pre-evacuation notice. An evacuation order remains in place for Rain Valley.

Sources report shooter with exploding targets started the 40,000-acre Sawmill Fire

The Green Valley News is reporting that several sources they spoke with said a target shooter using exploding targets started what became the Sawmill Fire 8 miles east of Green Valley, Arizona. The shooter reportedly tried to put out the fire, but after he failed he called to report it. The officials in charge of suppressing the fire have not confirmed what caused it.

As of Thursday April 27 the fire has burned approximately 40,000 acres and required the evacuation of several areas. The Green Valley News reported that approximately $1.6 million had been spent to suppress the fire as of Wednesday afternoon.

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive 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 causing his death. 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.

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.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged exploding targets.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Carl.

Sawmill Fire causes evacuations east of Green Valley, AZ

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

(UPDATED at 9:10 a.m. MDT April 27, 2017)

The growth of the Sawmill Fire east of Green Valley, Arizona slowed Wednesday as decreasing winds allowed air tankers and helicopters to drop water and retardant to assist the firefighters on the ground. The only significant spread that we found on satellite images was an additional 400 acres on the northeast corner of the fire.

As of Wednesday night fire managers were still calling it 40,356 acres.

An evacuation order remains in place for Rain Valley. Since evacuation orders were lifted for Greaterville and Singing Valley, residents of those areas are being allowed through the Arizona Highway 83 closure to access their homes. Arizona Highway 83 remains closed to public traffic.

The area is under a Red Flag Warning on Thursday and Friday for relative humidities in the teens and strong winds. One of the priorities on Thursday is to use aircraft to help secure the firelines before the winds increase.

Today, April 27, a Type 1 Incident Management Team will assume command of the 606 personnel on the Sawmill Fire.


(UPDATED at 7:47 p.m. MDT April 26, 2017)

At about 2 p.m. MDT the Incident Management Team said the Sawmill Fire had grown to 40,350 acres. At that time there were seven helicopters and three fixed wing aircraft assisting the firefighters on the ground.

On Wednesday morning the incident management team called it 20,000 acres.

At 2:03 p.m. MDT on Wednesday a heat detecting satellite mapped growth of the fire on the south and northeast sides.

map Sawmill Fire Arizona
The red area shows the approximate location of the Sawmill Fire at 2:03 p.m. MDT on April 26, 2017. The white line was the approximate perimeter about 12 hours earlier.

The weather station near the fire at Empire recorded on Wednesday a high temperature of 75, a minimum relative humidity of 12 percent, and wind in the afternoon out of the northwest at 8-12 mph gusting at 20-24.

Sawmill Fire
Undated and uncredited photo of the Sawmill fire. Inciweb photo.


(UPDATED at 11:16 a.m. MDT April 26, 2017)

A fire that started Sunday morning, April 23 eight miles east of Green Valley, Arizona, has burned (we estimate) about 28,000 acres as of 2:38 a.m. MDT on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, and required evacuations for the communities of Greaterville, Singing Valley, and Rain Valley. It has spread to the east 21 miles, has a perimeter of approximately 63 miles, and crossed Arizona Highway 83 in multiple places.

Sawmill fire map
Sawmill fire map, approximate perimeter 2:38 a.m. MDT April 26, 2017.

The fire is burning on lands protected by the Coronado National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Sawmill Fire, April 23
Sawmill Fire, April 23, 2017. Inciweb photo.

On Tuesday the temperature in the fire area was in the low 70’s, the relative humidity was in the 30’s, and the wind was 12-18 gusting at 25-33 mph out of the west. The forecast for the fire area on Wednesday calls for conditions that could lead to significant additional fire spread toward the east and southeast, with temperatures in the mid-70’s, humidity dipping into the single digits, and winds out of the northwest at 10-20 mph gusting to 29.

Tuesday evening Jeff Andrews’ Type 2 Incident Management Team assumed command. Due to the increasing complexity, management will transition to a Type 1 Team on Thursday, April 27.

Sawmill Fire
Sawmill Fire. Photo by Arizona Dept. of Corrections’ Florence Inmate Crew.

A full suppression strategy is being employed to protect nearby values at risk including homes, ranches and outbuildings, communications facilities, power lines, and the Arizona National Scenic Trail.

Sawmill Fire
Sawmill Fire, early in the morning on April 24, 2017. Photo by Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Water tender rolls over en route to Sawmill Fire in northern California

CAL FIRE reports there were no injuries in the rollover

water tender rollover
A U.S. Coast Guard water tender rolled over while en route to the Sawmill Fire. Photo by Kent Porter; used with permission.

(UPDATED at 9:14 a.m. PDT September 27, 2016)

Firefighters have stopped the spread of the Sawmill Fire in northern California that burned 1,541 acres on a south facing slope along Geysers Road 26 miles north of Santa Rosa. Roads connecting geothermal facilities at the top of the ridge served as anchors for burnout operations.

3-D map Sawmill Fire
3-D map of the Sawmill Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 26, 2016.


(Originally published at 8:23 a.m. PDT September 26, 2016)

A water tender rolled over while responding to the Sawmill Fire in northern California September 25. CAL FIRE reported that there were no injuries during the accident that occurred on Geysers Road in Sonoma County.

The Sawmill Fire started Sunday and by evening CAL FIRE estimated it had burned 1,500 acres. The fire is off Big Geysers Road 26 air miles north of Santa Rosa and 14 miles southwest of the community of Clear Lake. Sunday night mandatory evacuations were in place for residents in the Geysers.

DC-10 drop sawmill fire
DC-10 drops on the Sawmill Fire, September 25, 2016. Photo by Kent Porter, used with permission.

On September 21 the rollover of a water tender enroute to the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California resulted in the death of a firefighter.

map sawmill fire
Map of the Sawmill Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 25, 2016.

Most people do not think of the U.S. Coast Guard as having land-based firefighting apparatus, but the agency’s large training center just west of Petaluma, California has a full fire department.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the rollover of fire apparatus while assigned to a wildland fire are tagged “rollover”.