UPDATED: 2020 Is a Record-Breaking Year for Arizona Wildfires. Here’s What We Know So Far.

Photo by Rick Wiley, Associated Press

By Copper Courier Staff

June 16, 2020

Get the facts on where wildfires are burning throughout the state, how 2020 stacks up to previous years, and the toll these fires take on the environment.

This is a resource page that will be updated regularly on wildfires happening throughout the summer.

June 18: Bush Fire covers Nearly 115,000 acres

Arizona’s largest wildfire continued to grow as firefighters ignited backburns to eliminate potential fuel for the fire and protect structures in rural areas in the Tonto National Forest northeast of metro Phoenix.

Overnight infrared mapping put the Bush Fire’s size at 180 square miles (465 square kilometers) as of Wednesday night with containment around 5% of its growing perimeter, fire management team Dee Hines said Thursday. The fire has spread to approximately 114,941 acres

The fire, which covered 139 square miles (360 square kilometers) as of Wednesday, has forced evacuation of several rural communities in Maricopa and Gila counties and closed parts of three highway.

No structures have been damaged, Hines said.

Major fires also are burning across the state amid hot, windy and dry conditions, including two that also have prompted evacuations of threatened rural communities.

Those two fires were in the Santa Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson in southern Arizona and in the Kaibab National Forest north of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

Causes of the fires include lightning and a vehicle fire.

June 17: Hundreds of Firefighters Deployed Statewide

Firefighters battling large wildfires across Arizona contended with wind-driven runs of flames across rugged terrain amid hot and dry weather..

About a half-dozen rural communities on Wednesday remained under evacuation notices issued previously because of fires in national forests near Tucson in southern Arizona, north of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona and in east-central Arizona northeast of metro Phoenix.

Hundreds of firefighters were assigned to each fire. No structure damage has been reported.

Containment of the Bighorn Fire in the Coronado National Forest in mountains overlooking Tucson rose to 40% of its perimeter. The fire burned 25 square miles (64 square kilometers) as of Wednesday morning.

The size of the Bush Fire in the Tonto National Forest in east-central Arizona increased to 139 square miles (360 square kilometers) with 5% containment.

The Mangum Fire in the Kaibab National Forest north of the Grand Canyon grew to 74 square miles (192 square kilometers) with 3% containment.

June 16: Evacuations near Tonto National Forest

A central Arizona wildfire that has prompted evacuations of two rural communities and closed parts of at two state highways has grown dramatically in size, officials said Tuesday as they braced for hot and windy conditions.

The fire in the Tonto National Forest near State Routes 87 and 188 between metro Phoenix and Payson grew to 101 square miles (262 square kilometers) as of Tuesday morning, up from 59 square miles (153 square kilometers) as of late Monday, officials said.

Large fires also were burning in mountains near Tucson and in a forest north of the Grand Canyon in southern and northern Arizona, respectively.

“We expect to be up and running based on those winds,” said Dee Hines, a spokesman for the team managing the Tonto National Forest fire.

Hines said the fire’s size increase resulted from both actual growth and more accurate data provided by infrared mapping.

The fire prompted authorities on Monday to issue evacuation notices for the communities of Punkin Center and Tonto Basin and two other communities remained on notice for possible evacuations. Two other communities were on standby for possible evacuations.

No structures have been reported lost. No containment was reported.

June 15: Wildfire near Catalina Mountains only 22% contained

The lightning-caused blaze began on June 5 and has been burning in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest ever since.


Fire officials say the 23-square-mile wildfire has reportedly spread to higher elevations and is only 22% contained. 

Surrounding communities in the Catalina Foothills and Mt. Lemmon in north Tucson were forced to evacuate June 12.

“SET areas” are considered “Be Ready” Zones where residents in that area have been asked to maintain awareness of significant danger.

Most of the 630-person crew battling the blaze is focusing on strengthening the fire lines along Mt. Lemmon while others are keeping the flames from reaching the north edge of Oro Valley. 

On Sunday, the Pima County Sheriff’s Office let evacuated residents from the area of East Golder Ranch Drive and East Rollins Road to return to their homes.

The U.S. Forest Service said three people have been treated for minor heat-related illnesses. 

Meanwhile, fire crews believe a community in Arizona’s high country is in less danger from a blaze in the Kaibab National Forest. That fire was 39 square miles and only 2% contained. On Sunday, the wildfire spread north toward Mangum Springs. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

Highway 89A is closed from Marble Canyon to Fredonia and Highway 67 to the Grand Canyon. The North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park also remains closed.

And in central Arizona, about 40 miles east of Phoenix, a wildfire nicknamed the Bush Fire forced residents in the communities of Tonto Basin and Punkin Center to evacuate their homes. The American Red Cross set up a shelter at Lee Kornegay School in Miami, according to emergency management in Gila County. The area around Beeline Highway and Bush Highway is closed as a result.

The wildfire has been burning mostly tall grass and brush in the Tonto National Forest near the Four Peaks Wilderness Area. More than 300 firefighters are working on the blaze that was first reported Saturday afternoon. Investigators say this wildfire appears to be human-caused.

June 14: Firefighters battle flames from the Grand Canyon to the Catalina Foothills

Firefighters battling a large wildfire in the foothills and mountains north of Tucson were more confident they could protect homes Sunday but said high winds will continue to push the blaze into higher elevations where they can’t safely put crews.

The fire is one of several burning across the state amid hot, dry and windy conditions. A blaze on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is threatening the resort community of Jacob Lake, and a blaze on the Tonto National Forest has closed a major highway between Phoenix and Payson.

Efforts to protect homes in an area north of Tucson known as East Golder Ranch are ongoing, but a spokesman for the team fighting the growing blaze said they believe they are in less danger now. That area is on the northwestern side of the fire.

“Crews were very successful yesterday and overnight in securing this piece and limiting the spread potential or threat to that community,” Travis Mabery of the Southwest Incident Management Team said at a media briefing early Sunday morning. “At this time the threat to the community we’re feeling very good about.”

Evacuations are still in place in the Golder Ranch area and other areas have been warned to be ready to leave if the fire approaches.

On the southern edge of the fire, in Tucson’s Catalina foothills, there is still a potential for spread that could endanger homes, but Mabery said after more than a week of work that’s less of a threat.

The fire, which lightning started on June 5, increased to 19 square miles (49 square kilometers) as of Sunday and was only about 11% contained. It is burning in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest. More than 550 people are assigned to battle the blaze.

The big issue Sunday will be winds pushing the flames into the higher elevations, where it is unsafe to put crews on the ground because of rugged terrain.

“We can’t get folks out of there. We can’t extract someone if something were to go bad or injury happen up there,” Mabery said. “Today’s another critical fire weather day – very strong winds for us out of the southwest. We expect to see some of that fire moving upslope.”

To prepare for that, crews are being sent to the mountaintop resort community of Summerhaven on Mt. Lemmon to begin work to protect it in case the fire gets that far.

In northern Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park officials said the North Rim remained closed due to a wildfire in part of the Kaibab National Forest that is threatening the community of Jacob Lake. Authorities evacuated the hamlet Friday after winds pushed the fire forward about 10 miles (16 kilometers).

The fire has now consumed nearly 31 square miles (80 square kilometers) of forest and was just 2% contained on Sunday morning.

A second day of high winds Sunday is continuing to push the fire as crews work to beef up lines about structures in the community. Crews worked all day Saturday and into the night to strengthen existing fire breaks near the community.

The Forest Service has for years allowed small fires to burn on the North Rim to thin heavy stands of trees and brush and limit the risk of a catastrophic fire.

Jacob Lake has campgrounds and an inn with a gas station and cabins, officials said.

East of Phoenix, crews have no containment on wildfire that broke out Saturday and has burned about 12 square miles (30 square kilometers). State Route 87 connecting Payson to metro Phoenix is closed, forcing weekend visitors to the state’s high county to take long detours to get back home. No homes are threatened, but recreation sites are closed.

The AP contributed to this report.

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