Update as of 10 a.m. Wednesday
Wednesday 10 a.m.
On Tuesday, May 8, there were 20 air tanker takeoffs reported from the U.S. Forest Service Air Tanker Base on Fort Huachuca, according to Gilbert Gil, manager at the facility.
The flights dropped 32,031 gallons of fire retardant on the School Canyon Fire, located in the Parker Canyon Lake Area.
As of 9:30 a.m., no flights had been scheduled for today, however, an air attack plane has been flying the area over the fire to determine if additional tanker drops are needed, Gil said.
Gil did express concern for the weather report, which includes rain and lightning in the early afternoon. He said bad weather could stymie air missions to the fireline.
Wednesday, 8:45 a.m.
The School Canyon Fire grew significantly since the last official update from the U.S. Forest Service.
According to inciweb.org, the size of the fire measured 7,770 as of about 7 p.m. Tuesday. That figure may not distinguish between land located in the United States and Mexico. Prior to this report, the fire’s size on the United States side of the border was estimated at 1,200 acres at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The Sierra Vista Fire Department’s two brush trucks and four firefighters returned from assisting state and federal fire crews last night, said Deputy Chief Ron York. Their resources will redeploy to the area if they are requested by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the forest service.
“BLM will call if they want us back out there,” York said.
Current information on the deployment of Fry Fire District resources, which included a brush truck, water tender and four personnel last night, was not immediately available Wednesday morning.
After returning last night around 11:30 p.m., a second round of Palominas firefighters were dispatched to the fire this morning, said Walter Webb, a firefighter/EMT with the Palominas Fire District.
“Right now we have two firefighters and one water tender out there,” Webb said.
Tuesday, 11 p.m.
By all appearances, the Tuesday start of a wildfire seemed to be just over the Huachuca Mountains, west and south of Sierra Vista.
By 3 p.m. — a little more than six hours after the fire began — the odor of burnt and burning vegetation was perceptible in the city, as columns of smoke appeared to collapse on the east side of the mountains.
But, smoke from the “School Canyon Fire,” as it was designated by the U.S. Forest Service — was many miles away from the mountains.
Heidi Schewel, a spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest said the fire started at around 9:21 Tuesday morning.
As of 4:30 p.m., nearly 1,200 aces were blackened in the United States by the “human-caused” fire, she said.
No containment percentage was announced, as the firefighting is considered to be in its initial “attack” phase, Schewel said.
“No structures are imminently threatened,” she said.
The fire started in Mexico, not far from the border with the United States, and jumped the international boundary, Schewel said.
The wildfire crossed near Lochiel, in Santa Cruz County, which is about 30 miles southwest of Sierra Vista.
Reacting to the fire and the pace of its consumption, Cochise County Sheriff’s deputies directed the evacuation of Parker Canyon Lake campsites by early afternoon on Tuesday.
On a straight line, Parker Canyon Lake is about 20 miles from Sierra Vista.
Sheriff spokeswoman Carol Capas said the initial response of civilian fire and county deputies was to be ready to help if an evacuation was ordered, especially in the Parker Canyon Lake area, which is a popular recreation site, as well as where a number of homes for year-long residents and summer visitors exists.
Eventually a decision was made to evacuate the recreational area’s campsites, marina and lake, she said.
Besides ground components of federal and local fire fighting assets, air tankers dropped numerous loads of fire retardant.
Gilbert Gil, the Forest Service’s Air Tanker Base manager, said as of 5 p.m., 19 loads of retardant were dropped and he expected more to be done before flight operations were scheduled to end, a half hour after official sunset.
By today, the air tanker facility on Fort Huachuca’s Libby Army Airfield is expected to have four heavy retardant-dropping aircraft, two single engine air tankers, two lead aircraft and one air attack aircraft, which is the “boss bird” for flight operations, Gil said.
Additionally, other air assets such as water-dropping heavy helicopters, are engaged in the fire fighting but are not located at the air tanker base, Gil said.
Area residents will remember the Monument Fire, which consumed Southeast Arizona last year.
Starting on June 12, 2011, that wildfire burned more than 30,000 acres on the east side of the Huachuca Mountains, caused the loss of 60 structures — homes, out buildings and businesses — and the evacuation of thousands of people in the southern portion of Sierra Vista and the Hereford and Palominas communities, as well as private homes in the Huachuca Mountain canyons.
Fortunately there were no lives lost and at one time there were nearly 1,500 firefighters on the line combating that human-caused blaze.
Since the Monument Fire, many area residents have been concerned about another major blaze this year, which like 2011, could also bring major damaging floods.
As for the current fire, Gil said it is not unusual for a blaze to begin in Mexico in the San Rafael Valley and burn in the United States.
“It has happened many times in the past” he said.
Multiple departments battling blaze
Several local fire departments dispatched equipment and personnel to assist with the effort against the School Canyon Fire west of the Huachuca Mountains Tuesday afternoon.
At about 1 p.m., the Fry Fire District and the Sierra Vista Fire Department were both contacted by the U.S. Forest Service for assistance, according to Sierra Vista Deputy Chief Ron York and Fry Fire Chief Bill Miller.
The firefighters of both departments are red card certified, meaning they are trained to assist and actively fight any state or federal fire, the chiefs said.
“We’ve sent two brush trucks, four personnel and a training chief up there,” York said at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
More personnel will be sent if requested.
The Fry Fire District dispatched a brush truck and water tender, along with four personnel, Miller said.
The Palominas Fire District is also assisting in the effort by sending out a water tender truck and two personnel, according to Palominas Fire District Governing Board Chair Debbie Stoner.
In a supporting role were Cochise County Sheriff deputies, who assisted with law enforcement needs, to include in helping the evacuation of the Parker Canyon Lake recreational areas.
Coronado National Forest spokeswoman Heidi Schewel said federal agencies involved in the effort include the U.S. Forest Service Sierra Vista Ranger District, other Forest Service assets and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The total firefighting resources assigned, as of late Tuesday, were:
• Two 20-person fire fighting crews.
• 12 Engines.
• Four water tankers.
• Four heavy and two single engine air tankers.
• Two Skycrane helicopter tankers.
— Derek Jordan