Sawmill Fire update: Off-duty Border Patrol agent sparks 40K-acre wildfire

Posted at 10:40 AM, Apr 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-28 12:57:36-04

Officials are investigating an off-duty Tucson Border Patrol agent in connection with the Sawmill Fire, which has burned more than 40,000 acres in southern Arizona as of Thursday afternoon.

Tucson Sector Border Patrol officials told ABC15 the agent was involved in recreational shooting when he is believed to have inadvertently started the blaze. He immediately reported the fire after it sparked, officials said.

A Red Flag Warning remains in place until 7 p.m. Thursday night, with even stronger wind conditions hitting Friday and into the weekend.

"With these winds, it could change in a moment. All it would take is one ember to get these into these fine fuels," explained Chief Joseph De Wolf of the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District.

The blaze is burning roughly 40,350 acres and is now 20 percent contained. The fire has now traveled east over the Santa Rita Mountains and is burning north of Sonoita. It has advanced a half mile into Cochise County, just west of Whetsone in the foothills. 

Crews say they first received reports of the flames on Sunday.

"I believe we have enough crews on the ground right now and air support was wonderful yesterday," said Chief De Wolf. "I think we have a good handle."

More than 700 personnel are fighting on the ground and in the air, while roughly 150 people are out of their homes. Volunteers like Monica Rigas are helping to push positive energy into the community.

"It's just one of those things that," Rigas said. "When the word is out — we come together!"

Cochise County deputies say Rain Valley is the primary concern, while J6 and Mescal are of secondary concern. 

Rain Valley residents are still out of their homes this morning with roughly 150 people evacuated. Other communities are on stand-by to leave as quickly as possible if necessary.

If you're looking for ways to contribute, donations can be dropped off at Sam's Club on Stone Avenue, Common Ground Church is accepting donations at the Rancho Sahuarita Clubhouse at 15455 Rancho Sahuarita Blvd. in Sahaurita, and KGUN 9 Studios at 7280 E. Rosewood Dr. in Tucson during regular business hours until Friday, April 28. The studio is open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

On Monday, the Green Valley Fire Department Headquarters located at 1285 W Camino Encanto will be accepting donations during regular business hours. 

Coronado National Forest has gun restrictions listed on their website:

"Target shooting is an acceptable use of Coronado National Forest lands, when done safely and responsibly. Shooters are reminded to consider the safety of other Forest visitors, and to respect public and private property. Safe target placement against a solid backstop is important. Shooters should use standard targets, not appliances, furniture, glass, etc. and remove targets and shell casings before leaving the area.  Shooting in areas with flammable materials such as dry grass should be avoided, as ricochets can cause wildfires.  Shooters should avoid shooting in any manner or place whereby any person, property or natural resource (such as wildlife or vegetation) is exposed to injury or damage."