Human cause cited in big 2011 wildfires

No suspects, but 2 S. Ariz. blazes began in smuggling areas, US says
2012-05-15T00:00:00Z 2014-07-23T17:28:18Z Human cause cited in big 2011 wildfiresTom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 15, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Southern Arizona's costliest fires of 2011 were both human-caused, and both started in border areas known for drug- and human-smuggling.

The U.S. Forest Service has been unable to affix blame or locate suspects in either fire nearly a year after investigation began on the Horseshoe 2 and Monument fires.

The Monument Fire "started 180 yards north of the border and burned into Mexico," according to a Forest Service statement released Monday.

It turned north, eventually burning 32,053 acres, mostly in the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista.

The fire, which began on June 12, destroyed 84 homes, businesses or other structures.

"The general location of the suspected start of the fire is commonly used by narcotics smugglers, human traffickers and undocumented aliens," the statement said.

Investigators went to the point of ignition the day after the fire started. They found "no footprints, clothing fabric, campfire rings or other indicators of human activity," according to the statement.

The Horseshoe 2 Fire began on May 8 in the Horseshoe Canyon area of the Chiricahua Mountains and burned 223,000 acres, destroying 23 homes or buildings.

Investigators were unable to pinpoint the exact start of that fire because of subsequent firefighting activities.

They reported "heavy use of the area by undocumented aliens on the trail entering Horseshoe Canyon. One investigator noted fairly fresh tracks on the trail consistent with those of undocumented aliens, as well as a burlap fiber consistent with that of narcotics smugglers," the Forest Service statement said.

Investigators recommended that the Monument Fire be listed as "Closed-Unsolved," unless further information is discovered.

They recommended that the investigation of the Horseshoe 2 Fire "be closed due to lack of investigative leads, with the cause of the fire undetermined."

In 2011, 86 fires burned across 365,000 acres of the Coronado National Forest, which manages 1.78 million acres of Sky Island forest in Southern Arizona. Forest Service officials determined that 50 were human-caused, but the statement noted that "identifying those responsible is very difficult due to the remote locations of these incidents, the dangerous and destructive environment a wildfire produces, and the transient nature of the likely suspect."

Two men have admitted starting Arizona's largest fire of 2011, which burned mostly in the Apache National Forest.

Caleb Malboeuf of Benson and David Malboeuf of Tucson each face up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine when they are sentenced next month for leaving a campfire unattended. The Wallow Fire burned from that campfire in the Bear Wallow Wilderness through 538,000 acres acres of pine forest in Eastern Arizona and New Mexico.

RESTRICTIONS START IN FORESTS

Fire restrictions were enacted as crews fought five wildfires throughout the state this week.

Stage I fire restrictions went into effect Monday for all of the Coronado National Forest in Southern Arizona.

That means no campfires, charcoal, coal or wood stove fires, except in developed recreation sites.

Smoking is also prohibited, except within an enclosed vehicle or building or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or has been cleared of all flammable material.

Violations are punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations, imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

Similar bans are in effect or will be in effect in all national forests in Arizona by Friday.

For specific information on fire restrictions in our region's public lands, go to gacc.nifc.gov/swcc/ or call 1-877-864-6985.

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

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