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Sawmill Fire now 61 percent contained
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Sawmill Fire now 61 percent contained

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The cost to battle the Sawmill Fire in Southern Arizona is now $4.26 million. The blaze is 61 percent contained.

Overcast skies on Friday helped the efforts of 800 fire personnel working to keep the fire from the community of J-6 Ranch, near Benson, said Michelle Fidler, a spokeswoman for the top-level Type 1 management team overseeing the operation. 

Thus far, the blaze has burned about 47,000 acres. It began Sunday near Box Canyon about 10 miles southeast of Green Valley. A Border Patrol agent who was engaged in recreational shooting is being investigated as the fire's cause, authorities said. The agent reported the fire immediately after it began, they said.   

The blaze has swept across the Santa Rita Mountains and into ranching grasslands dotted with mesquites south of Interstate 10 and west of Benson. 

There have been no reports of burned structures or injuries, officials said.

"There was no significant growth today," said Fidler on Friday, adding that the fire is active in the Apache Wash area. "We have not seen a change in the perimeter." 

However, no aircraft worked the fire Friday because of the windy conditions with gusts up to 45 mph. "The wind did not hinder our efforts because it was cooler and the overcast helped moderate the fire behavior," Fidler said.

The fire remains 7 miles from the J-6 Ranch community and families are under pre-evacuation notices. Firefighters worked in the area Friday and were providing structural assessments. "They were there and ready if they needed to provide protection," said Fidler.

On Thursday, officials with the Cochise and Pima counties' sheriff's departments assured residents at an informational meeting that if the fire moved closer and evacuations were ordered, deputies would direct traffic and physically knock on doors to make sure families received the word to leave.

Rain Valley residents were allowed to return to their homes Friday afternoon, but do remain under pre-evacuation notices. The communities of Hilton Ranch is also under pre-evacuation notice. 

A storm was passing through the area headed to New Mexico, the National Weather Service reported. Officials said windy conditions are also expected Saturday.

Ground crews worked to secure the fire's perimeters, and focused on mopping up burned areas. "This is hard work because firefighters have to get on their hands and knees and get into the ash with their hands and make sure there are no hotspots or sparks smoldering that could carry fire across the line. They have to make sure the ground is cold to the touch," explained Fidler.

This work was being done on the western flanks for the most part, and crews also worked on the east and north side of the blaze.

Officials reopened Arizona 83 through the burn area Thursday after the highway had been closed south of Interstate 10 to near Sonoita since Monday.

   

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@tucson.com or 573-4104. On Twitter: @cduartestar

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