Northwest Fire District’s Ironwood Hotshot crew, consisting of about 20 firefighters, has returned to Tucson after being dispatched to help subdue the Waldo Fire in Colorado and Grapevine Fire at Mt. Graham in Safford.
According to Battalion Chief Heath Evans, the Hotshots were headed to the Waldo Fire, but were diverted to the Grapevine Fire before they left the state.
The Waldo Fire, which has burned down nearly 350 homes and killed two individuals, is almost entirely contained, according to Battalion Chief Dugger Hughes.
Though authorities are still unclear if the fire was human-caused, they have determined the fire began near a popular walking trail.
“Investigators are still following up on tips as to how the fire started,” said Evans.
According to the Denver Post, firefighters began searching the trail on June 22 and June 23 to find the source of the smoke, but high winds interfered with their progress. It was later determined the fire had started near the area they were originally searching.
Hughes said an arson specialist was recently in the area investigating the cause in collaboration with local law enforcement.
Should the fire be determined as human-caused, a $50,000 reward is being offered by an anonymous donor for information leading to the arrest of a suspect or suspects.
To date, the fire has burned through 18,247 acres of forest with a 98-percent containment rate.
“The Waldo Fire was very intense,” said Hughes. “It’s as intense of a fire storm as you would ever encounter, and driven by 60 mile-per-hour winds.”
The weather, which previously helped fuel the fire, has since contributed to its containment, as cooler, humid temperatures moved through the area, along with cloud cover and showers over the past few days.
Hughes said during dry weather, it is extremely important for people to use caution when dealing with fire.
“We’re starting to get some moister weather, but until we get a really good monsoon pattern with humidity, causing soil moisture and turning grass green instead of dead, we ask everyone to be really careful,” he said.
Hughes said people are being allowed to return to their homes in designated areas as utility crews continue to work on repairs and restoration to the area.
About 32,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the area. Many of those homeowners have fallen victims of looters.
“It’s been a problem mostly near Fort Collins and Colorado Springs,” said Hughes. “Law enforcement has worked to secure those areas, though.”
The Hotshot crew will likely not stay in Tucson for long, according to Hughes. Following their return from the Grapevine Fire, the Hotshots are planning to travel to southeast Montana, where a series of fires have burned approximately 308,000 acres.
The Grapevine Fire was lightning-caused, and has burned more than 1,400 acres since it began on June 28.
The fire is mainly burning grass and brush. Firefighters have lit backfires to prevent the blaze from jumping Highway 266.
The Avra Valley Fire District has also been sending crews to help with wildfires around the nation this season.
Avra Valley recently sent some firefighters and trucks to the state of Wyoming for two wildfires, the Squirrel Creek Fire and the Arapaho Fire.