Sawmill Fire growing in SE Arizona

A plane lays down fire retardant on the Sawmill Fire as it tries to crest the hills near Sonoita. Photo by Bryce Reichardt

By Harry Alexander / SoAzNewsX

A wildfire that broke out east of the Green Valley area in southern Arizona has consumed nearly 40,000 acres. The Sawmill Fire is burning on lands under the jurisdiction of the Coronado National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The fire started Apr. 23 about ten miles east of Green Valley. It quickly grew due to dry grasses and high winds. The high winds have pushed the fire east toward the historic Empire Ranch just off of SR 83 and north of Sonoita. The fire is seven percent contained, said officials.

Gusty winds and broken topography have contributed to growth of the fire, burning in tall grass, riparian woodland, mesquite/oak brush, oak woodland, and pinyon-juniper fuel types. Values at risk include homes, ranches and outbuildings, communications facilities, powerlines, and the Arizona National Scenic Trail, said firefighters.

The fire is said to have been human-caused.

The fire has crossed Arizona Highway 83 in multiple locations. Pre-evacuations and evacuations have occurred in several communities. Local media reports said that some residents of the area were told to evacuate. Some of the residents have been allowed to return to their homes.

The Sawmill Fire threatened the historic Empire Ranch by burning grasses in the area. The fire was turned and did not reach the historic buildings.

Photo by Dave Tuggle

“This was literally the very southern edge of the W-E running fire and it only burned across the northern slopes of the ranch HQ, but not to the south. And in the ranch HQ and airport area, it did not burn east of 6901,” said Dave Tuggle of the Empire Ranch Foundation. “Burn in the gulch was mainly grass and down-and-dead, some cottonwoods singed.”

Rep. Martha McSally today released the following statement regarding the Sawmill Fire in Southern Arizona, which doubled in size this afternoon and will be elevated to the status of Type I Incident on Thursday morning, April 27.

“My thoughts and prayers are with all who are impacted by the Sawmill Fire raging through over 40,000 acres across Pima and Cochise counties.  I have been in conversation with Governor Ducey and I stand ready to provide assistance and work to channel federal resources to Southern Arizona to contain the Sawmill Fire. Once contained, I plan to do everything in my power to ensure the proper resources are available for a swift recovery from this devastating incident. I applaud the three hundred brave men and women in the firefighting force who are putting their lives on the line to keep our communities safe, and I am encouraged by the way the community is coming together to meet each other’s needs. My office will continue to provide assistance to constituents, monitor the situation, and offer support to the frontline fight against this fire.”

There are more than 350 personnel on the ground and in the air fighting the fire.  As of this writing, the fire has consumed 40, 350 acres. No injuries have been reported.



Harry Alexander is the Managing Editor of the Southern Arizona News-Examiner.




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