William J. Sikorski, age 65, was arrested Saturday by Cochise County Sheriff’s deputies and jailed for reckless burning and cruelty to animals, said sheriff’s office public information officer Carol Capas.
Sikorski was arrested for starting a brushfire that charred more than 26 acres and threatened several homes in Woody Hills, a community west of Fairbank. Neighbors at the scene say Sikorski was burning trash at the time of the incident, trapped a skunk in a dog food bag and set the bag on fire, with the live skunk inside. Once the bag started burning, the skunk’s fur caught fire, the animal escaped from the bag and raced through brush, which sparked the blaze that threatened nine homes throughout the area and spread to a salvage yard where 20 cars were destroyed.
Initially, fire officials reported five homes were threatened, but in an update on Monday, Whetstone Fire Chief Peter Bidon, who served as Saturday’s incident commander, said the number was actually nine.
Along with Saturday’s arrest, Skikorski also is wanted for outstanding warrants by the Marshal’s Office, Capas said.
The brushfire started in the vicinity of Fordney Lane in Woody Hills – located south of Highway 82, west of Fairbank – sometime around 8:35 a.m. and resulted in a multi-agency response where slurry planes assisted ground crews as they battled the blaze. The fire was completely out by 1:45 p.m.
Local residents and fire crews that responded to the blaze managed to protect buildings in the area.
“The coordinated effort of all the different agencies, along with the slurry planes, controlled what could have been a really bad situation,” said Peter Bidon’s wife, Melissa. “The biggest concerns were to protect structures in the area and prevent the fire from reaching the (San Pedro) river, which the fire crews and planes managed to do.”
Along with PBW, Whetstone, Huachuca City, Fry and Tombstone Fire departments, the Bureau of Land Management, Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and planes based out of Willcox responded.
“When this first started, three buildings were in danger, but Whetstone Fire got here right away and, along with assistance from other responders, were able to protect the structures from damage,” said Orozco who was one of several residents fighting the blaze with sand and shovels until fire crews were on scene. “All the departments did a great job. We were fortunate; this could have been so much worse.”
Rugged terrain and thick brush made fire fighting efforts difficult. While slow moving, the fire managed to spread northwest to Ralph’s Auto Towing and Recycler, a salvage yard along Bower’s Road, creating concerns when the blaze reached some of the cars on the property. Twenty cars were destroyed.
Cochise County Sheriff’s deputies closed Bower’s Road where it meets Sanders Road and residents along Bower’s were evacuated, with Sheriff Deputy David Norton going door-to-door recommending evacuations. Residents along Bower’s Road were evacuated up to Brookline Ranch, a property by the Hayhurst family.
“I’ve been watching the fire since nine this morning, and it looks like it’s spreading this way,” a worried Terri Hayhurst said around 11 a.m. as she watched the thick smoke head in the direction of her family’s ranch. “I’m thinking we should start getting some of our animals out of here.”
Residents had loaded livestock and pets into trailers and could be seen hauling animals out of the area, with some lined up along Sanders Road as they watched slurry planes and fire crews battle the blaze from a distance.
Looking out over the thick smoke that shrouded the salvage yard, Wanda Bos, whose family owns the property, said, “All this is because someone decides to burn garbage during the driest time of the year,” she said. “I’m grateful for the emergency responders; they’re doing an amazing job.”
With the help of slurry planes, the fire was out by 1:45 that afternoon.
“The majority of the units left the scene at 5 p.m. that day, but PBW left the next morning because they were watching for hot spots,” Peter Bidon said Monday. “Everyone worked really well together.”