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.

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.

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(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.

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(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.