Fire crews try to save SW center amid gusts

2011-05-17T00:00:00Z 2014-07-22T11:25:45Z Fire crews try to save SW center amid gustsTom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 17, 2011 12:00 am  • 

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for southeast

Arizona today, including the fire area 120 miles southwest of Tucson.

Wind gusts of up to 45 mph are predicted beginning at noon.

Fire crews braced for another day of high winds on the Horseshoe 2 Fire in the Chiricahua Mountains today.

Heavy smoke invaded the community of Portal Monday as firefighters set backburns south and west of the Southwestern Research Station, in an effort to spare those buildings from the advancing blaze.

The fire was estimated at 27,000 acres last night, but an accurate count

was impossible. The fire team's helicopters were grounded by the winds and smoke made it difficult to see the fire's edge, according to a release from the incident management team in charge of fire operations.

Firefighters are defending the Southwestern Research Center near Portal from the 27,000-plus-acre Horseshoe 2 Fire burning toward it from the south.

Fire managers also extended evacuation warnings Monday two miles to the north, to the rural enclave of Paradise, home to five permanent residents and about 20 seasonally occupied houses.

Crews are waiting for the right moment to intentionally burn the area around the research station in a slow, controlled manner, said Michelle Fidler, spokeswoman for the team fighting the human-caused fire.

They have readied the buildings to withstand embers and carved a fire break around them.

The decision to light the back burn should come before a drastic change in weather conditions forecast for today.

A Pacific storm that will move through Arizona north of Tucson is expected to bring with it wind gusts of up to 45 mph.

The research station was evacuated Sunday. It is an arm of the American Museum of National History in New York and its Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

Its 90 acres of land are surrounded by the Chiricahua Mountains unit of the Coronado National Forest.

Buildings there include 17 housing units, laboratories, an animal-behavior observatory, a library and a headquarters with kitchen, dining room and conference center.

The fire, which began May 8, spread quickly through grasses, brush and trees that received little moisture this past winter, spreading even against the wind.

It is now 20 percent contained and being fought by a force of 630, under the command of an inter-agency incident-management team led by Joe Reinarz.

Crews spent the first days of the blaze keeping the fire from reaching the community of Portal and the world-class birding habitat of Cave Creek.

The fire is now in the upper reaches of Cave Creek Canyon and the stated goal is to "minimize high-intensity burn impacts to Cave Creek watershed" by slowing the fire with downhill back burns and drops of water and flame retardant from the nine helicopters assigned to the fire, officials said.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.

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