The Burro Fire in the Santa Catalina Mountains had scorched more than 27,000 acres as of Sunday night, but monsoon rain and relatively cooler weather helped significantly in partially dousing the blaze. Rain did hamper efforts to fight and estimate the current containment of the blaze on Sunday, however.
U.S. Forest Service Incident Commander Bea Day said the rain was welcome, and that Sunday was “a good day,” although she was unable to put a timetable on a return date for Mount Lemmon residents.
However, she did confirm that incident command was beginning to reallocate resources to other fires.
“We are starting to demote resources,” Day said. “And we will continue to demote over the next several days and then we will get to our target organization sometime mid-week.”
U.S. Forest Service Operations Chief Jay Lusher explained the effects of the monsoon on the fire and the firefighters.
“We did have to pull many of our crews off the fire line today,” he said, on Sunday. “So, we’re not going to increase the containment for today, just because we did not have folks out there to confirm by the end of shift.”
Though news of rain brought cheers from displaced Summerhaven residents at the Sunday press conference, the monsoon was not all positive. Lightning from the storm caused two new ignitions, Lusher said.
“One was in Alder Drainage,” Lusher said. “It got up to about three acres, we watched it, it was during the thunderstorm activity so we could not get any aircraft up. It did get rain on it, and it was not showing any smoke when I left the mountain.”
Still, Lusher could not confirm the ignition was fully extinguished.
“We are going to fly it tomorrow, and we anticipate getting a small crew in there tomorrow to check that.”
Catalina Highway, Redington Pass Road and the Mount Lemmon Service Road remained closed Monday morning, allowing officials and fire personnel to move unencumbered in their efforts to fight the fire.
The origin of the fire, first reported on June 30 in the Burro Tank area of Redington Pass, is still under investigation. Nearly 650 fire personnel from 14 crews are on assignment, with six helicopters and more than 40 fire-engines to help combat the fire.
With the southern boundary of the fire under control, the northeastern boundary continued to burn Monday. The area was too dangerous to send personnel in by foot, with the steep terrain offering few escape routes for firefighters and ample fuel source for the fire.
Instead, crews are using helicopters and water tankers to drop slurry on the blaze while at the same time “making contingency plans so they will be prepared if the fire should attempt to spread into the rugged country beyond the existing perimeter,” Day said, in a press release.
Because of other fires burning throughout the west, some of those helicopters will be assigned to other, less contained fires soon.
“We did make one heavy helicopter and one medium helicopter available for additional fires occurring,” Lusher said. “They are still here, but we anticipate they will have a new assignment by morning.”
Crews were also working to protect structures along Catalina Highway. Brush and debris were removed from the area, with contingencies made for defending homes and businesses.
“Firefighters are positioned for a possible defensive burning operation between the highway and the fire’s edge should the fire make an aggressive run to the west,” Day said.
Weather forecasts call for more monsoon rains during the week, with relatively cooler temperatures. Last week, fire crews battled more than just the fire, with extreme heat advisories in effect most afternoons.
Towards the end of Sunday’s briefing, Day expressed confidence in the command’s organizational goals.
“As we assess tomorrow what’s really left out there and time frame to get you guys back into Summerhaven, then we will really set when our glidepath down to target will look like,” Day said. “Stay tuned on that.”
Editor's Note: Access to Summerhaven was reopened after deadline, though only residents and business employees with proper identification have been allowed.