Fort Huachuca blaze was sparked by bulldozer

Monument Fire near Sierra Vista
2011-06-17T00:00:00Z 2011-06-25T00:42:35Z Fort Huachuca blaze was sparked by bulldozerBy Tony Davis, Doug Kreutz, Brady McCombs and Tim Steller, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The Monument Fire continues its run north toward Sierra Vista today, but firefighters got a handle on its most worrisome flare-up in Miller Canyon. Meanwhile, a second fire started on Fort Huachuca, forcing evacuations in nearby Sierra Vista neighborhoods, but was quickly controlled.

June 17, 8:40 p.m.

FIREFIGHTING COST AT $4.1 MILLION

The Monument Fire, which is said to be 15 percent contained at 19,350 acres, has cost an estimated $4.1 million to fight to date, fire officials estimated tonight. They currently estimate that the total, final cost to fight it will come in at $15 million.

June 17, 8:35 p.m.

GAS SERVICE RESTORED

Natural gas service has been restored to the 2,100 customers evacuated due to this afternoon's Ft. Huachuca fire. "Because the system had not yet lost pressure, we were able to restore service without having to go door to door and do manual relights," said Southwest Gas spokeswoman Libby Howell.

June 17, 8:30 p.m.

FIREFIGHTER HOSPITALIZED TODAY

"We had one injury today. Non-fire related. One person transported to hospital. Not due to any trauma — it was due to a pre-existing condition," Monument Fire incident commander Greg Poncin said tonight. No details were given.

June 17, 8:25 p.m.

STREETS REOPEN

Fort Huachuca says the roads from Buffalo Soldier Trail to Cherokee Road to Highway 92 are officially re-opened.

June 17, 7:55 p.m.

SPARK'S DAMAGE SHOWS HOW DRY IT IS

"What happened today exemplies conditions we have across Southern Arizona — a simple spark can cause a large fire to go," said Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch. "We have implemented a forest closure for the entire forest. I know you can see the reasons why. The conditions just aren't acceptable now for us to open the forest. Again, continue to pray and hope for rain and that is what we are hoping for."

June 17, 7:20 p.m.

FORT BLAZE CAUSED BY BULLDOZER SPARK

From the U.S. Army's official Facebook page for Fort Huachuca: "The fire on the fort this afternoon was caused by the blade of a bulldozer sparking while dozing a fire break. It is dangerously dry in our beautiful high desert. Please be very careful and mindful of the high fire danger."

Col. Timothy Faulkner, garrison commander at the fort, confirmed that cause when speaking to the community gathering in Sierra Vista tonight. He said the spark from a blade hit a rock and then caused the fire.

"It was just an unfortunate accident," Fort Huachuca spokeswoman Angela Moncur said by phone later. But in the future, if bulldozers are used to build fire line, they will have water trucks behind them to spray down the dust, she said.

The fort refers to today's 2,400-acre fire as the Antelope Fire. And at the community meeting, an audience member praised fire crews for quickly gaining 98 percent control of it:

"I just want to say, thank you, guys. I saw Antelope fire take place today. I don't know what the textbook is but it is awesome how you handled it."

June 17, 7:15 p.m.

WHERE TO CALL WITH QUESTIONS

The Monument Fire call center, where your questions will be answered with the "best and fastest information," is 1-800-288-3861.

June 17, 7:10 p.m.

NO REPORTS OF LOOTING

"We evacuated 3,000 homes and 12,000 people. We have no reports or any notice of looting," a Cochise County sheriff's official told the community meeting in Sierra Vista this evening, which was packed with about 500 people.

June 17, 6:55 p.m.

STILL HOLDING IN CANYON

The fire is still holding in Miller Canyon above residential areas.

Today brought good news but the winds will be worse tomorrow and Sunday, noted incident commander Greg Poncin.

"The winds weren't quite as severe today and we were able to see what I would call our first major success. Keeping the fire from coming out of Miller Canyon. We were building line in through that canyon above the homes, yesterday and last night," he said.

On Saturday firefighting crews expect to be working in Carr Canyon and Sunday in Ramsey Canyon.

The newest pre-evacuation areas are east of Highway 92: Ramsey Road north to Camino Principal and east to Campobello, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office says.

June 17, 6:30 p.m.

GUSTS UP TO 45 MPH FEARED

The high winds whipping Southern Arizona likely will worsen this weekend as a series of weak storms over the Pacific Ocean roll across the West, the National Weather Service predicts.

They’ll sprinkle rain on northern Nevada and Utah and send spin-off winds our way, with expected gusts up of to 35 miles an hour today and up to 45 miles an hour on Sunday.

For crews battling the Monument Fire in Sierra Vista, “Sunday will not be good,” said Glen Sampson, a meteorologist at the weather service’s Tucson office.

Sunday’s winds, expected to peak in the afternoon, may be the worst of it.

June 17, 6:10 p.m.

'We need a change of weather'

"At this point, yes, we do have enough resources" to fight the Monument Fire, incident commander Greg Poncin told a community meeting this evening in Sierra Vista. "We might place some additional orders, but right now, we're getting what we ask for.

"What we really need," he added, "is a change of weather and some rain."

"Good luck with that," an audience member called out.

Poncin said the fire is "out in an area without any homes. And for that we are very fortunate."

In response to questions, he said the fire is burning on the edge of Hunter Canyon and "I can't for sure say it has gotten into Bear Draw Canyon. This is a fluid situation."

Listen to the live feed of the community meeting at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/monument-fire-arizona

Community officials, saying they're concerned about the spread of fire rumors, said information will be disseminated through 1420 AM and 92.3 FM radio stations in Bisbee.

June 17, 5:55 p.m.

S.V. EVACUATION UPDATES

Sierra Vista Police have lifted the evacuation in the area of Cherokee and La Terrazza.

Buffalo Soldier Trail still remains closed from Fort Huachuca Main Gate to Cherokee as fire crews work.

June 17, 5:35 p.m.

COMMUNITY MEETING STARTS AT 6

It will be held at the Windemere hotel, 2047 S. Highway 92 in Sierra Vista.

June 17, 5:20 p.m.

FIRE BURNED MOSTLY GRASSLANDS

The fire on Fort Huachuca, which is now 98 percent contained, burned primarily grasslands. Firefighters estimate 2,400 acres were burned, fort officials say.

June 17, 5:10 p.m.

THIRD SHELTER TO OPEN

Red Cross volunteers are setting up a third shelter, this one at Bisbee High School.

The Red Cross expects that in Sierra Vista, the Apache Middle School shelter (capacity 100) will be full tonight and that the Buena High School shelter (capacity 430) may also fill up.

June 17, 4:50 p.m.

HUACHUCA BLAZE 90 PERCENT CONTAINED 

The fire on Fort Huachuca is now 90 contained, fort officials say. "No houses were affected by the fire," they add.

June 17, 4:45 p.m.

QWEST/CENTURYLINK FIBER BURNS

Several thousand feet of fiber “burnt and bubbled” by the Monument Fire “is holding up at this point,” said Mark Molzen, a spokesman for Qwest/CenturyLink.

However, the damage could put phone and Internet service at risk for a “significant” number of customers, he said.

 “There is no 911 impact at this time,” Molzen said, adding that there are redundancies in that system that should protect it.

New fiber and equipment have been ordered.

Qwest/CenturyLink is offering free call forwarding for 30 days for thundreds of displaced residents who have its service. Customers wanting to activate this service should call the Qwest/CenturyLink Repair Center and identify themselves as a customer affected by the wildfires. For residential customers, that number is 1-800-573-1311.

"In addition, we have dispatched four generators for lost power to our central offices, are wrapping equipment with fire-resistant blankets and are removing the brush/grass from areas for preventative measures as the wind kicks in this afternoon," Molzen said in a news release.

June 17, 4:15 p.m.

FIREFIGHTERS WRANGLE NEW FIRE

Firefighters have a decent handle on the new fire that broke out this afternoon on Fort Huachuca, according to a new announcement on the fort's Facebook page.

The fire has burned about 50 acres but is 45 percent contained and moving toward the mountains, not houses, the announcement said.

A backburn is being conducted to prevent the fire from spreading into nearby residential neighborhoods, the announcement said. There are 54 firefighters, four pumpers and two engines working on the new fire.

The fort's main gate has re-opened one outbound-only lane.

Rapid evacuations have led to traffic jams on Arizona 92 and east and west on every cross street as people try to evacuate, the Star's Tony Davis reported.

June 17, 4:00 p.m.

RESIDENTS FLEE AHEAD OF FLAMES

Residents in a Sierra Vista are frantically evacuating after a new fire broke out this afternoon on Fort Huachuca.

The new fire is racing toward a southern Sierra Vista subdivision, Arizona Daily Star reporter Doug Kreutz said from the scene. The affected area is south of Buffalo Soldier Trail, west of Arizona 92 and east of Fort Huachuca.

Firefighters ran up to two young brothers who were trying to hose down a house and said "That fire is coming. That water is not going to help. It's time to go."

Tankers are dropping slurry on the blaze, but it is burning fast.

Resident Janice Smith was panicked as she tried to load three horses into a trailer. Other residents ran to their vehicles, throwing items inside and driving off.

"It's pandemonium," Kreutz said by phone.

This fire broke out just before 2 p.m. at Fort Huachuca.

Fort officials released a statement saying the fire is on the South Range near Lower Gardner Canyon and the Aerostat facility.

Several places on the fort have been evacuated and the main gate has been closed. The Main Gate Shopette, vehicle registration, thrift store and widow support center all have been evacuated. All traffic is being diverted to the east gate.

"Due to the rapid pace this fire is moving, we're taking every precaution to maintain the safety of our personnel," fort spokeswoman Angie Moncur said in a written statement.

This brushfire is separate from the existing Monument Fire, Cochise County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Carol Capas said.

Southwest Gas turned off natural gas service to 2,100 customers in Sierra Vista after the new fire broke out this afternoon. The shut-off affects all Southwest customers south of Buffalo Soldier Trail and west of Arizona 92.

June 17 4:00 p.m.

MAN ARRESTED AT ROADBLOCK

During the hectic evacuations near Hereford Thursday afternoon, Cochise County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man who failed to stop at a road block, clipping a Border Patrol agent.

At about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Abraham Oberhueller reached a road block at S. Moson Road and E. Hereford Road, where officers told him not to enter because of fire danger, said Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas.

He ignored the orders and accelerated, clipping a Border Patrol agent and nearly hitting three others, Capas said. Deputies stopped him and arrested him on suspicion of four counts of aggravated assault on a police officer and four counts of officer endangerment, she said.

Oberhueller, 34, told deputies he needed to go check on his mother in the neighborhood, Capas said. Deputies went and checked on her, and she was okay.

Oberhueller is being held on $50,000 bond. The Border Patrol agent who was clipped is OK, Capas said.

June 17, 2:45 p.m.

FIREFIGHTERS STALL BLAZE IN PLACES

Firefighters made some progress on the Monument Fire this afternoon, using bulldozer trails to keep it from crossing Hereford Road, a major road south of Sierra Vista, into neighboring subdivisions.

By applying a large amount of chemical retardant, firefighters have also temporarily halted the fire's progress in the Huachuca Mountains west of State Hwy. 92 at the north end of Miller Canyon, according to a spokesman for the firefighting effort and a witness staying near the fire scene.

"We're most definitely making significant progress along the northern boundaries of the fire," said Tom Fields, a spokesman for the fire operation's Incident Command, at about 1:45 p.m. today. "It does look like it has calmed quite a bit."

But he said the fire is still a long way from being contained, let alone controlled in that area, and pointed out that it hasn't reached 2 p.m. yet -- the temperatures typically start to rise and the wind starts to really howl.

"We haven't seen that yet today," Fields said.

The first reports of progress in fighting the fire came earlier this afternoon from a Facebook site devoted to the Monument blaze. One poster, Tom Creech, said in an interview that he is staying three miles north of Miller Canyon in his parents' home and from there has seen the fire stuck in the bottom of the canyon. The canyon's north side is "completely pink" from fire retardant being dumped on it, he said.

"I haven't been able to see flames for a couple of hours," said Creech, who is at that site despite an evacuation order for that area from the Cochise County Sheriff's Department. "The south face of the canyon was heavily on fire for most of the day until two or three hours ago. That burned out.

"It actually looks like they are doing a pretty good job of keeping the fire down," he said.

Fields confirmed that a good line of retardant has been placed along the ridgetop from air tankers. The retardant cools down the fire, taking some of its oxygen away and acting as a buffer, he said. At that point, the likelihood of the fire crossing bulldozer-driven lines down below the mountains and west of 92 also becomes lesser, he said.

"It's good news from that standpoint," Fields said.

June 17, 1:47 p.m.

SHELTERS GETTING USED

Seventy-two people stayed Thursday night at the shelter at Apache Middle School in Sierra Vista, the Red Cross says.

Another 12 stayed at a Buena High School shelter in the city.

The Red Cross will offer the shelters indefinitely, said Richard White, its Southern Arizona director.

Since evacuees at the shelters have not suffered physical injuries in the Monument Fire, a dozen Red Cross staffers are focusing on helping them deal with stress or mental health issues, and on counseling families on how to find and receive relief services, he said.

June 17, 1:41 p.m.

ENTOMOLOGY COLLECTION BURNS

A world-class entomologist lost research and his entire collection of moths when his home burned in Ash Canyon, his daughter said today.

The scientist, Noel McFarland, has studied and collected moths in the United States and Australia, said daughter Audra Werkheiser.

“He had a devastating loss,” said a friend of McFarland’s, Mary Jo Ballator, who owns Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast, which survived the fire.

Jack and Shady Chapman said today they were "very, very lucky" that their nearby home at the top of Ash Canyon survived for the most part this week when most of their  neighbors' homes burned.

"The Sheriff's Office told us that our house was OK," said Jack Chapman, who with his wife has lived 26 years in the canyon area near the Coronado National Forest boundary. "Part of the deck burned that was latched onto the back of the house, but that was it."

Out of 10 or 11 homes up at the top of the canyon, theirs and one neighbor's are the only ones known to be still standing, said Shady Chapman, adding, "Wouldn't you call that luck?"

But it wasn't just luck -- they had a crew come in and clear out weeds, brush and other debris from around their home during the spring. That got rid of a lot of the fuels that helps fires to spread, said the Chapmans today at the Windemere Hotel, where they are staying after having evacuated.

June 17, 12:55 p.m.

CREWS BULLDOZE LINE AS EVACS EXPAND

With the fire moving north and east, Cochise County Sheriff’s officials extended the evacuation zone one mile closer to Sierra Vista this afternoon.

The pre-evacuation zone now extends to an east-west line about four miles south of central Sierra Vista. The fire is moving east down Miller Canyon.

Officers are now pre-evacuating homes north to E. Camino Principal and east to S. Campobello Ave. in the area east of Arizona 92. In the area west of Arizona 92, they are pre-evacuating north to E. Yaqui Street and west to S. Calle Metate.

Firefighters are dropping fire retardants from air tankers and bulldozing a fire break this afternoon near Miller Canyon in an effort to keep the Monument Fire from going northeast into the Hereford area where about 650 homes are threatened, a fire official said.

The hope is to keep the fire from going east of State Hwy. 92, where so far no homes have been burned. At least 47 homes have burned west of the highway since the fire started. Firefighters want to keep the fire away from residential areas along Hall, Hereford, Janice and Anita roads, said Tom Fields, a spokesman for the fire's incident command operation.

As of now, homes have been evacuated in a large area from Ramsey Canyon and Ramsey road on the north to Three Canyons Road on the south. The east boundary of the evacuation is Moson Road and evacuations have been ordered all the way west up numerous canyons in the Huachuca Mountains.

June 17, 12:36 p.m.

MORE HOUSES CONFIRMED LOST

Seven houses and four outbuildings were destroyed Thursday in the Stump Canyon area, the Cochise County Sheriff's Department reports.

In addition, one vehicle and one historic building were damaged.

The homes lost Thursday bring the total to 47 destroyed or damaged so far.

Stump Canyon is the area about 10 miles south of Sierra Vista where the Monument Fire flared up Thursday afternoon and crossed Arizona 92.

June 17, 12:15 p.m.

FIRE BEAT CLEARING EFFORT

The Monument Fire is burning in mountains and canyons that were slated for major reductions in the “fuels” carrying it along.

The first of the Coronado National Forest’s “Firescape” plans is for the Huachuca Mountains and the grasslands that border it. That program will thin, burn or masticate up to 30,500 acres of forest and woodland per year for 10 years — depending on the weather and the availability of money for the programs.

The Firescape plan includes three federal agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, Fort Huachuca and the Park Service’s Coronado National Memorial, where the Monument fire began.

According to the approved plan, up to 270,000 acres will be treated across the three federal jurisdictions over 10 years.

“Funding has been a problem,” said Brooke Gebow of the Nature Conservancy.

The Forest Service and community partners such as the conservancy, have thinned some swaths of oak woodland in the areas that the Monument Fire burned or is threatening  — Ash, Hunter, Carr and Ramsey canyons.

Time and the Monument Fire will tell if any of it worked, Gebow said.

“This thing is just outside the boundaries of what you plan for,” Gebow said. “It’s just bone, bone dry.”

June 17, 11:39 a.m.

EMERGENCY DECLARED

Gov. Jan Brewer has declared a state of emergency today at a news conference in Sierra Vista.

The declaration means National Guard troops are on call now to help with efforts related to the Monument Fire. It is up to the fire managers when or if they call the National Guard in to help, Brewer said.

In addition, the declaration means $100,000 will go toward the cost of emergency response and covering some fire damage.

The governor met privately with evacuees Friday morning.

“They were so upbeat," she said. "They were tough — I’m talking tough.”

Asked when people will be allowed back to their houses, Brewer said "We're just going to have to be patient to see what has actually taken place."

Brewer flew this morning over both the Monument and Horseshoe 2 fires.

"It's quite startling to see the acreage that burned, and it's still burning," she said.

She said she spoke with U.S. Forest Service officials who assured her they have the resources they will need to get the fire under control.

Brewer said she was sad to hear of the homes that burned.

"It breaks your heart to know these things happen, but the bottom line is, there's been no loss of life."

 

June 17 10:10 a.m.

SOLDIERS CLEAR DEBRIS

Fort Huachuca soldiers are trimming trees and cutting back brush to create fire breaks in Fort Huachuca.

The soldiers are going to every home in the area clearing it of debris and flammable materials.

June 17 9:45 a.m.

PRAYERS FOR SAFETY

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson will preside at a special "Mass in Our Time of Need" for the people of Sierra Vista and Cochise County affected by the Monument Fire.

Kicanas is also inviting leaders of other faiths to join him at the mass "in prayers for the containment of the fire, the safety of firefighters, the comfort of those who have lost homes and property and an early beginning of gentle monsoon rains."

The mass will be Saturday at 5 p.m. at St. Andrew the Apostle Church, 800 N. Taylor Dr., in Sierra Vista.

June 17 8:20 a.m.

BLAZE GROWS

The fire grew overnight to 18,580 acres, officials said this morning. Containment is now at 15 percent.

Residents from the Stump Canyon area to Ramsey Canyon are now being evacuated.

More homes were burned yesterday, but officials do not know how many and are waiting for the Cochise County Sheriff's Department to assess areas.

Helicopters and an air tanker are attacking the blaze this morning in anticipation of being grounded when the winds get too strong.

Firefighters are coordinating with Fort Huachuca officials to create control lines.

Efforts this morning are focused on protecting homes in Hunter and Carr canyons. A structure-protection crew is working in Hunter Canyon.

Firefighters are trying to hold the fire line at Forest Road 61. The Department of Public Safety has closed Arizona 92 at Palominas Road.

The wind is already picking up and the smoke is thick and blowing to the east.

June 17 7:15 a.m.

HUACHUCA SOLDIERS TRAINING

Fort Huachuca firefighters will provide basic training to two, 12-man Quick Reaction Force teams of soldiers today.

The teams will get hands-on training putting out a small controlled burn at the fort's fire station.

Four additional teams will train with firefighters Saturday.

The soldiers are being trained to assist firefighters should the Monument Fire reach  Fort Huachuca. They will not be used in firefighting efforts off the installation.

June 17 6:30 a.m.

ANOTHER TOUGH BATTLE AHEAD TODAY

Anxious residents await the arrival of Gov. Jan Brewer this morning. She is scheduled to speak to evacuees in a Sierra Vista shelter around 10 a.m.

The National Weather Service has issued another red-flag warning for Cochise County today from noon to 7 p.m.

Wind gust of up to 37 miles per hour are expected this afternoon. Today's high could reach 96 degrees.

Today, the Sheriff's Office anticipates evacuating every home south of East Ramsey Road, about five miles south of Sierra Vista's center, officials said.

Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch said at least two military aircraft equipped to fight fires will be ready Saturday to fly from Libby Army Airfield near Fort Huachuca.

More than 800 people are assigned to this fire, which is human-caused and began Sunday in the Coronado National Memorial near the Mexican border.

THURSDAY June 16 UPDATES

More than 1,700 homes were evacuated south of Sierra Vista as the wind-whipped Monument Fire grew to 11,600 acres and continued its run toward the city.

Strong winds picked up around noon and pushed the fire northeast past fire-control and retardant lines and across Arizona 92 near Stump Canyon. Crews managed to keep the fire south of Hereford Road.

Cochise County officials declared a state of emergency.

SPECTACULAR FLAMES

Flames were reported shooting 40 feet into the air Thursday. Some fire crews could be seen leaving in vehicles just ahead of the wind-charged inferno.

Most aircraft fighting the fire were grounded for much of the middle part of the day, said Greg Poncin, incident commander with the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team.

There was no estimated containment Thursday evening because of disruptions caused by power outages at the Incident Command Center, said Dixie Dies, a fire spokeswoman.

The fire is estimated to be 17 percent contained. Officials said Thursday night that crews were holding fire lines near Nucci Lane and Hereford Road and would begin setting intentional fires there to rob the blaze of fuel.

Crews were also planning overnight intentional fires, weather permitting, from the top ridge of Miller Canyon south to the ridge in Hunter Canyon.

SOME RESIDENTS GET LOOK AT DAMAGE

Chief Deputy Rodney W. Rothrock of the Cochise County Sheriff's Office said every home south of East Nevada Drive to South Hargis Ranch Road had been evacuated as of Thursday evening. That's about a mile north of where the fire burned south along East Hereford Road to nearly five miles east of Arizona 92. Hereford Road is less than 10 miles from the Sierra Vista city center.

Some residents, however, were being allowed back in to their homes Thursday night. They likely will face another evacuation today.

All those allowed to return - mainly east of Arizona 92 and south of Ramsey Road to Moson Road - will be under pre-evacuation orders today, officials said.

Even with some residents being allowed back, large swaths of the area south of Sierra Vista remained evacuated. Those closures include Ash, Hunter and Stump canyons.

Long stretches of Arizona 92, which runs north and south and east and west, are closed from Ramsey Canyon to Palominas.

FLOOD OF EVACUEES

Sierra Vista was on edge through much of Thursday as evacuees found lodging with friends, checked into area motels or made their way to a shelter at Apache Middle School run by the city and the Red Cross.

The shelter was a gathering place for volunteers and evacuees throughout the day, even those staying with family or friends.

Justine Farrell, 38, who lost her house in Ash Canyon and is staying with relatives, said she visits the shelter regularly to check in on friends and neighbors.

Farrell was evacuated Sunday after sheriff's deputies knocked on her door and told her to leave, interrupting a bath. "It came as a total surprise," she said. "I was in my robe and had soap in my hair."

Nick Wilcox, 16, a senior at nearby Buena High School, volunteered at the shelter throughout the day, trying to organize his friends in the volunteer effort through his Facebook page.

"I could see the fire from my backyard. I just wanted to do something," said Wilcox, whose father is a captain in the Sierra Vista Fire Department.

Jennifer Thornton, a shelter manager, said the outpouring of community support has been fantastic, with the shelter receiving a growing mountain of donations such as bottled water, paper products and food from restaurants. A local Girl Scout troop even pitched in, putting together personal-hygiene kits.

"We have a great, great city," Thornton said.

There were so many donations that Red Cross officials told the audience at Thursday evening's community meeting to switch to cash donations to the Red Cross, asking that checks specify the money go to the Cochise County wildfires.

As the shelter filled late in the day Thursday, Nancy Arrowsmith of Bisbee contributed her own special talent: acupuncture for stressed-out evacuees. She said she'd treated at least 20 people.

"It's been stress for days. Ever since it started it's just been 'AAAAAAAH!' " said Arrowsmith, who operates a clinic in Sierra Vista. "I thought, 'What am I going to do sitting around in Bisbee?' "

Nearby, Howard Day, 67, was keeping his cool, even though he and his wife had been evacuated from his home near East Hereford Road and Arizona 92 that afternoon.

"We've been watching this stupid thing for a few days now," he said. "We threw all our stuff in the car today. You can take a hint when the aircraft start flying over."

Day, a retired engineer and amateur astronomer who moved from California to Sierra Vista for the dark skies, said he didn't worry so much about his house, but he is worried about his telescopes. But even more than that, he said he was worried about his neighbors.

"We've got diehards down there who refuse to go," he said. "And retirees, people living on Social Security and a little from a 401(k) if they're lucky. If they get burned out, I don't know where they'll go."

Sheriff's officials urged everyone to remain calm and follow orders. One man is facing felony charges for trying to ram a patrol car at a road closure, the agency said.

NO REPORT ON LOSSES

Officials said they had no new information on whether any additional homes have been damaged or lost to the fire on Thursday. The official count of burned residences remained at 40. The most severe damage was likely in Ash Canyon.

The preliminary word from fire structure specialists assessing the damage Thursday afternoon was good, said Pat Call, chairman of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors.

The firefighters' initial assessment is that no houses have been lost east of Arizona 92 in the Hereford area, Call said. Many people, including Call, reported plumes of black smoke in the area and suspected that was an indication that houses were burning.

"It seems impossible," said Call, who drove into that area Thursday. "That would be incredibly great news."

It's unclear what happened to homes on the west side of Arizona 92, Call said.

EMERGENCY DECLARED

In an emergency meeting held telephonically Thursday afternoon, the Board of Supervisors voted to declare an emergency.

The board's declaration opens the door for Gov. Jan Brewer to declare an emergency in the county, said Call.

Just a week ago, the board voted to declare an emergency due to the Horseshoe 2 Fire, burning in the Chiricahua Mountains. But the governor declined to make the declaration because she didn't think that fire's losses were great enough, Call said.

Brewer is planning to visit Sierra Vista today after an aerial tour of the fire.

LEAVING HOME

Mike Calabrese was among those thousands who were told to leave Thursday.

"I listen to authorities, and I suggest that others do the same," said the former volunteer firefighter from New York state. "I feel blessed that we were given enough time to remove personal items like photos that cannot be replaced."

Calabrese, who works at Fort Huachuca, was interviewed near the corner of Calle Delarosa and Ramsey Canyon Road, where there was a continuous stream of evacuees. He said he and his wife and son live a half-mile away.

"I'm seeing a lot of dark smoke and we're losing homes," he said. "But we have a lot of people putting out an extraordinary effort to save homes and lives."

GAS SERVICE SHUT OFF

Southwest Gas shut off service to 57 homes east of Arizona 92, between Ramsey Road and Hereford Road, said Libby Howell, the utility's spokeswoman.

Those are the first homes with natural-gas service to be potentially affected by the Monument Fire. Most of the homes in the areas affected so far do not have natural-gas service but may use propane tanks instead.

BIRDING PRESERVE READY

Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains went under a pre-evacuation alert Thursday morning, but The Nature Conservancy's renowned preserve there is as prepared for the Monument Fire as it can be, said Ken Wiley, stewardship director for the conservancy's Tucson office.

The Ramsey Canyon Preserve, a mecca for birders from around the world, has been closed since Sunday. Everyone and everything valuable that can be moved has been moved, Wiley said.

In addition, the conservancy has been planning for a major fire for years, Wiley said. Workers have thinned the preserve's hundreds of acres over the last six or seven years, he said, so if the fire does make it into the canyon, it won't have as much fuel to feed on.

Star reporters Carmen Duarte, Carol Ann Alaimo, Alex Dalenberg, Jamar Younger and Fernanda Echavarri contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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