The Monument Fire, which started June 12, has burned 26,956 acres. It is 27 percent contained. There are more than 1,000 people assigned to the fire, including 22 crews, 104 engines, 9 helicopters and 3 air tankers.

BURNOUT OPERATIONS TONIGHT

Conditions permitting, firefighters will conduct a burnout tonight in the area between Antelope Way and East Carr Canyon Road, west of Arizona 92. This will be behind residential areas on East Loma Lane, East Poncho Trail, East Yaqui and East Choctaw. 

The burn will be up to a half-mile wide. Neighborhoods as far north as Wilcox Drive in Sierra Vista will be able to see the flames and smell the smoke.

Burnouts are purposely ignited fires designed to safely remove fuel in advance of the wildfire front. If the burnout is successful, advancing wildfire runs out of fuel and stops.

This burnout will serve to connect the burned areas between Miller Canyon and Antelope Way to create a firebreak.

'A MUCH BETTER DAY'

Hundreds of Sierra Vista residents are gathered at the Buena High School auditorium for a community meeting and update from officials fighting the Monument Fire.

Today was "a much better day," a fire official said, thanks to a reprieve from the persistent high winds.  

Although the fire is still at 27,000 acres, with 27 percent containment, firefighters are hopeful they can make headway in the next couple of days, especially if the forecast of less-windy days holds true.

MORE HOMES, BUSINESSES BURNED

The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office said an additional 14 homes and four businesses were either damaged or destroyed by the Monument Fire on Sunday.

The previous released total was 47 homes damaged or lost to the blaze.

RE-ENTRY PERMITS AVAILABLE TODAY

Residents on the following streets will be allowed back into their homes.

Andalusian/ Calle Cola Blanca/Cool Oaks Road/Covey Run/Darley/Elohyna/East Indigo Sky Road/East Thompson Park Road/Fairfield/Grand Oak/Hackney/Herder/Heritage Oak/Hickory/Hidden Oak/Hunter Creek/Kinjockity/La Pradera/Lippizan/Mighty Oak/Molly/Morgan/Mule Oak/Oakridge/Palisades/Paseo Venado/Polo/Red Oak/Roaring Oak/Roberto/Ruby/Saddlehorn School House/Seven Oaks/Sexton/Shire/Silver Concho/Silver Leaf/Silver Thorne/Sophia/South Rock Ridge Road/Stoneridge Road/Sun Quail/Swiss/Three Canyons/Vaquero/Welsh/White Leaf Wilderness/Arab /Big Oak/Big Spur/Black Bear Oak/Blue Oak/ Bryerly/Bull Rope/Bunkhouse.

Before going home, residents must report to the Palominas Fire Station at Milepost 338 on Arizona 92 between 3 and 9 p.m. today and between noon and 9 p.m. Tuesday to verify their address and sign for their re-entry permit. Permit specifics will be explained at the Palominas Fire Department. Road blocks on Arizona 92 are not being lifted, so people must travel through Bisbee to get to the fire station.

Prince Placer Road west of Stoneridge will remain closed.

SOME UPBEAT NEWS

Mark Regan of the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team delivered some positive news today to residents who arrived at the Windemere Hotel worried about their houses. He said just because a home is in a "red" area of the map, indicating Sunday's fire path, doesn't mean it's lost.

"There are a lot of homes that are saved," said Regan, who drove through the area this morning. "They saved a lot of structures."

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office is still working on an assessment of the damage from Sunday's wind-driven flare up.

So far today, Mother Nature is cooperating, Regan said. Temperatures are down, relative humidity up and, most importantly, winds are about 15 miles per hour, down from about 45 mph Sunday.

"The winds are in our favor today," Regan said.

Reduced wind means there's no need to ground the 27 choppers and planes fighting the fire.

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

Today is a day of uncertainty for many of the residents evacuated from their homes during the craziness of Sunday's wind-driven flare up.

People are arriving in a steady stream to the Windemere Hotel in Sierra Vista to check updated maps that show where the fire reached on Sunday, along with evacuation and pre-evacuation zones.

Bob Million came trying to find out if he could get to his daughter's house in one of the evacuated zones to get her pets. She was at work Sunday afternoon, and wasn't able to get anything. If possible, he was hoping to go take a look at his house in the same area.

"If that map is right," said Million, pointing to one on the wall, "the fire came within a block of our house."

At the evacuation center at Buena High School in northeast Sierra Vista, Linda Eisenhower talked on the phone with a Cochise County Sheriff's deputy who was checking on a dog she had left behind Sunday. Trying to get all their things as ash and sand swirled overhead made Sunday's evacuation chaotic.

"It was like being in a movie but it was real," said Eisenhower, who lives just north of East Ramsey Road in the area east of Arizona 92. "You see that type of thing on TV but you don't expect to live through it. It was pretty traumatic."

She was able to get two cats and five dogs, but not the last one, which is why she called the Cochise County Sheriff's Office.

"We're not allowed to go back," she said.

She, her husband and teenage grandson are staying in a camper in the Buena parking lot awaiting word on when they can return. Like so many today, Eisenhower doesn't know if their house is burned or not.

"It's stressful," she said. "Very high stress. You just don't know."

But, she said, echoing what many at Buena High School said Monday, "I'm grateful that no one was hurt."

Their plan for Monday: hang out, watch the fire and wait for the 6 p.m. meeting with fire officials to hear the latest.

Vince and Diana Mendez, their two small children, daughter and her husband and child are among about a dozen families staying in a camper in the Buena parking lot. They came here after being told on Sunday afternoon to leave their house, located east of South Moson Road and north of East Ramsey Road.

In a lot of ways, there was a sense of relief in getting out of the a house that had been a pre-evacuation zone for several days, Vince Mendez said.

"We know we've been evacuated and it's just a waiting game now to get back in and see if we have a home," Vince Mendez said. "It's not the stress of worrying if we are going to get trapped. I think last night was the first peaceful night of sleep I've had in days."

They expect to be staying in the parking lot for at least a several days, he said.

10:15 a.m.

SOME GOOD NEWS

As residents from the evacuated areas south of Sierra Vista awaited word on their homes, there was some good news.

Marlene Townsend got word from a friend in the U.S. Border Patrol that her home had not burned.

Townsend and her brother, Hob Quimby, share a rental home on the west side of Arizona 92, close to the mouths of Miller and Carr canyons, where the fire came racing through on Sunday.

Townsend had alternately laughed and cried as she watched the smoke plume grow and the ridges torch above where her home stood on Hobbs Road.

On Monday, she went to work at the Fort Huachuca base exchange, where she is an inventory specialist, for the first time since leaving her home late last week.

She had two days to prepare, so she and her brother loaded up a storage shed with photographs and important documents.

They left the furniture and “thousands of dollars of kitchen gadgets,” said Townsend.

She doesn’t know when she will be allowed back in, and is staying with friends for now. “I’m going back to work; I can’t do anything about it right now,” she said.

She is not alone. About 10,000 residents are out of their homes.

Jay and Evelyn Kaplan showed up early at the fire information center Monday to reaffirm what they already suspected. Fire did not go through their neighborhood near Ramsey Canyon, west of the highway.

They had already telephoned and gotten their message machine.

The Kaplans moved here 10 months ago to escape the “blizzards, snow and cold,” said Jay.

“The first thing that happened was the record freeze, the second was this fire, now we’re waiting for the flood,” Jay Kaplan said.

Kaplan said his home is surrounded by the straw-colored grass that everybody calls “short grass,” but is at least knee high in most areas. Kaplan said he keeps it mown near the house and thinks his home could survive a wuick brush fire, but he’s glad it wasn’t put to the test.

June 20 7:45 a.m.

AWAITING DESTRUCTION REPORT

Flags hang limp this morning in Sierra Vista — a hopeful sign after a Father’s Day wind-driven inferno took out an unknown number of houses and businesses in the suburbs to the south.

Crews had not yet been briefed on Sunday’s events and the plan for recovery from them. The normal 6 a.m. start was bumped up two hours after they worked into the morning hours helping to snuff a fire that jumped Arizona 92 — the five-lane buffer between the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains and the ranchettes and subdivisions to the east.

There is no word yet on how many structures burned and no confirmation that fire that “spotted” across 92 is under control. The fire maps still show that as “uncontrolled line,” said fire spokeswoman Diane Drobka.

Drobka said she drove through the area called Nicksville at sunset Sunday and saw the burned remains of a tiny commercial strip that holds a popular Mexican restaurant called Ricardo’s, a tavern named Nick’s Place and an adjoining German café.

They were burned to the ground, but, miraculously, the post office across the street was untouched.

June 20 7 a.m.

WEATHER COULD COOPERATE TODAY

For the first time in days, the National Weather Service has not issued a red-flag warning for the area, which will give firefighters a chance to get ahead of the Monument Fire.

Sunday’s fire leaped across lines that had been bulldozed and burned in Miller Canyon for days, aided by a “fire whirl” – a flame filled dust devil that can develop in these canyon fires in much the same way a dust devil appears in the super-heated terrain around Tucson.

The “uncontrolled line” in the more populated areas east of the highway is mostly south of Ramsey Road, with a couple fingers that run north in two spots, said Drobka.

Smoke was not rising from the area on Monday morning.

Sunday June 19

EVACUATIONS AND PANIC

Large swaths of Sierra Vista's southern suburbs were evacuated Sunday as the Monument Fire roared out of the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains for the third time in a week, spewing sparks that set several fires and destroyed an unknown number of homes.

At least three businesses also burned as the flames raced in 45-mph winds. More than 10,000 residents were turned out of their homes Saturday and Sunday.

The entire day shift of firefighters, 700 in all, and at least 100 engines were dispatched Sunday to attack the blaze and to protect homes in the grasslands that run from the mountains down to the San Pedro River.

"We may have lost some homes out there. We don't know yet, but at least we haven't lost them all," said Chief Deputy Cochise County Sheriff Rod Rothrock.

"We have had our hands full from the time the sun came up," incident commander Greg Poncin told the crowd at a community meeting at Buena High School.

AIR ATTACK CALLED OFF

At the firefighters' morning briefing at 6 a.m., Line Operations Chief Bob Lippincott said the teams would go in early to Miller Canyon, "start the air show and get ahead of this wind."

But the wind ripped early and didn't wane all day. The planes and helicopters did not fly. The wind blew embers over the lines the teams had carved in Miller Canyon, ran down to Arizona 92 and blew sparks across it as well.

Homeowners watched from a roadblock two miles away, grimacing as flames ran down the slopes and black smoke signaled that a building might be burning.

Many people wore masks. Ashes blew around the city, which is home to about 45,000 people, including military personnel from Fort Huachuca. The wind was so strong that it shook vehicles.

"This doesn't look good at all. This is horrible. This is a nightmare," said Sierra Vista native Debbie Schmidlin, who was evacuated twice in the past week from homes east and west of Arizona 92 at the mouth of Miller Canyon.

Sunday, she watched as fire surged around her neighborhood.

She had first moved across Arizona 92 into a friend's house, then had to evacuate to another friend's home well north of Sierra Vista in Whetstone.

"If this fire gets there, I'm leaving Arizona," she said.

Mario Morales, who has a mobile home on land he owns on the east side of 92, was philosophical. "You've just got to accept it," he said. "There is no stopping this monster."

Morales said he has lived in the area for 26 years and has seen fire before, but never one this "vicious."

"We're in God's hands," he said.

Smoke and flames could easily be seen from the parking lot of the Windemere Hotel on Arizona 92, across from the Mall at Sierra Vista. Trent Fields and his teenage son Andrew drove to the hotel for a Father's Day brunch. After they got out of their car, they stood spellbound by the frightening spectacle on the mountain.

"This is the first time I'm seeing flames during the day, and we are miles away (from the fire)," Trent Fields said.

Lindsey Eltinge, 25, had evacuated her home in Nicksville, just south of Sierra Vista, on Wednesday, grabbing a few things, her three dogs and getting out. She drove to a friend's house in Sierra Vista while her husband was at work on Fort Huachuca.

Then, on Sunday, the news came that the pre-evacuation zone was expanded to the San Pedro River. "This means our house is fair game," Eltinge said.

Hours later, officials said three popular restaurants in the Nicksville area had burned down: Nick's Place, Ricardo's and The German Café.

URGENT TONE

Finally, late in the afternoon, the firefighters were aided by several drops of fire retardant from nearby Libby Army Airfield. Air flights, which had been grounded all day by the winds, resumed about 5 p.m.

The effectiveness of the firefighting - especially the air attack - was clear in the urgent chatter over the fire scanner:

4:40 p.m.: "We need help. Cannot control it."

4:52 p.m.: "Fire making a pretty good run in subdivision off Ramsey and 92."

5:14 p.m.: "Heavy aircraft coming down Ramsey Road."

5:20 p.m. "We've got the fire contained on the north side of Ramsey at this time," followed shortly by: "Hot spot at Ramsey and Campobello, and we're going to converge on that."

6:04 p.m.: "All units are fighting structure fires."

6:24: "Tender going to join Type 1 team at Ramsey and Campobello Avenue near La Rosa. They are working quite a few structures in there."

6:56 p.m.: "There's engines on every house that needs it."

LIGHTER WINDS PREDICTED

Fire incident commander Poncin predicted that the teams would snuff the grass fires overnight after the winds died down.

The forecast for the next couple of days is for much lighter wind, he said.

At the end of the community meeting Sunday night, residents lined up behind microphones. Many sounded off their frustration of not knowing if their houses burned down. Some raised concerns of looting and asked for more security in the evacuated areas.

But at the end of it all, they showed appreciation for the hard work emergency crews have done, including military personnel helping at shelters and roadblocks.

"This is probably not the Father's Day that any of you wanted, but you have the whole U.S. military behind you now," Army Col. Tim Faulkner told the crowd.

NEW BLAZE ON MOGOLLON RIM

A new fire was spotted Sunday afternoon on the far western edge of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Bear Canyon Lake.

Reported just after 1 p.m., the Willow Fire is about a mile north of the lake on the Mogollon Rim and is moving northeast, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Bear Canyon Lake is about 20 miles northeast of Payson.

Some structures lie a mile or two north of the fire, which had burned about 300 acres as of Sunday night. Extremely windy conditions kept planes and helicopters from attacking the fire, but two bulldozers, seven fire crews and eight engines also were assigned to fight the fire.

AND ANOTHER NEAR SASABE

The El Camino Fire burned 250 acres on Sunday, about six miles east of Sasabe, said Heidi Schewel, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

The new wildfire started Sunday afternoon across the border in Sonora, and the cause is still under investigation, Schewel said.

Beginning today, firefighters from California and Montana will fight the fire, she added. No crew members or other resources are being removed from the battle lines of other Arizona wildfires, which include the Horseshoe 2 near Portal and the Wallow Fire, biggest in state history, in the White Mountains.

To contact reporters: Tom Beal, tbeal@azstarnet.com; Fernanda Echavarri, fechavarri@azstarnet.com

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