More than half of the Monument Fire is now contained as crews have managed to limit the destructive fire’s growth in recent days, officials said Wednesday.
A controlled burn Tuesday night was successful and widened the fire line north of Ramsey Canyon Road, officials said Wednesday.
Firefighters worked Wednesday night to continue to extend the buffer zone around the Carr and Garden Canyon areas with burnouts.
Fort Huachuca crews were constructing and improving firebreaks west along Garden Canyon and the military installation.
The fire — which has destroyed or damaged at least 65 homes and businesses — has burned 28,236 acres, officials said Wednesday evening. That is about 1,000 acres greater than Tuesday’s total size.
Crews, meanwhile, have managed to build containment lines around 59 percent of the fire.
Many evacuees were allowed to return home Tuesday and Wednesday after days away from their residences. Only one shelter remained open.
There are no more areas under pre-evacuation notices, but thousands of residents remain evacuated, mainly west of Arizona 92.
Crews will continue working on fuel-reduction projects in preparation for more controlled burns. The intentional burns rob the fire of fuel — vegetation — and halt its advance.
Winds have slowed down to single digits, but the National Weather Service issued another heat advisory for Sierra Vista today.
Temperatures on Friday and the weekend are expected to fall, as high pressure weakens and shifts east, according to the National Weather Service. Monday and Tuesday will be back to extreme heat reaching 109 degrees.
McCain claim supported
During the day, the Cochise County sheriff backed up Sen. John McCain’s assertion that illegal immigrants are often responsible for setting wildfires.
Sheriff Larry Dever went a step further to say that he firmly believes illegal immigrants started the 42-square-mile fire.
“There is no other logical assessment available — not fireworks, not campfires, not someone passing by in a vehicle. It was somebody on foot in a high-intensity foot-traffic area,” said Dever, adding that the area where the fire started was remote and closed to visitors.
Dever is known as an advocate for tougher border enforcement and a political ally of McCain.
Jennifer Allen, director of the Border Action Network, an immigrant-rights group based in Tucson, said Dever was trying to make a scapegoat of illegal immigrants..
“Without there being actual reports or documents pointing fingers in any direction, it’s completely irresponsible for Sheriff Dever to make this statement, especially in a state so divided by immigration,” Allen said.
Coronado Forest spokeswoman Heidi Schewel declined to say whether investigators think the human-caused fire was started by illegal immigrants.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact reporter Fernanda Echavarri at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4224.