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Tucson's Bighorn Fire: Blaze tops 100,000 acres, windy day a worry
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Tucson's Bighorn Fire: Blaze tops 100,000 acres, windy day a worry

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Sun sets on the Bighorn Fire, burning in the high elevations over Sabino Canyon on the southeastern slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Tucson, Ariz., June 26, 2020.

Wind on Saturday helped propel the Bighorn Fire to 104,000 acres and it continued to be a concern for firefighters Sunday, officials said.

The fire crossed a control line just south of the Mount Lemmon Sky Center Observatory on Sunday, Andy Huntsberger, operations section chief for the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team, said Sunday afternoon.

More than 100 firefighters, with the help of aircraft, worked to control the less than two-acre fire in that area, Huntsberger said.

“Hopefully we’ll get our arms around that,” he said. “You know, there is a lot of wind this afternoon and it’s still warm and dry but there are resources on scene working that area.”

Fire activity also picked up on the southeast end of the fire over the weekend, Hunsberger said. Aircraft and hand crews worked to contain the fire east and southeast of Willow Canyon.

“We really don’t want to see the fire continue to move to the south and then wrap around again,” he said. “So we’re doing what we can to prevent that.”

Fire crews are also working on contingency plans farther southeast of the fire line in case the fire does spread in that direction, Huntsberger said.

The wildfire was at 104,690 acres Sunday morning. It was 45% contained and 1,168 people were assigned to the fire, which has cost more than $28 million to fight so far.

"We're going to hold what we have," Tim Reid, deputy incident commander for the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team, said Sunday morning of the general plan in the fight to contain the wildfire that has been burning in the mountains north of Tucson since it was ignited June 5 by lightning.

"We will work on the eastern side, and we have two days of extreme winds that will meet or exceed the winds that grew this fire to its initial large size," Reid said.

Except for small interior fires, the edge of the Bighorn from the southwest corner north to Oracle was mostly inactive Saturday.

"All-in-all, this is looking pretty solid all the way around," Reid said.

Most of the fire's growth Saturday was along its southeastern edge. An evacuation order around Redington was expanded on Saturday afternoon.

Reid said the wind helped push the fire past an area scarred by the Burro Fire in 2017.

Rough terrain and high winds expected Sunday made fighting that section of the fire a challenge, Reid said.

Meanwhile, Summerhaven to Green Mountain "looks really good," Reid said. However he added, "there's a lot of work to be done . . . and we're being cautious with the forecasted high winds."

The upper portion of Sabino Canyon had a lot of smoke Saturday, but both it and the Ventana Canyon area have remained relatively calm.

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As residents in Tucson watched the Bighorn Fire burn across the mountain range, some wondered if the fire really needed to get so big, or if the firefighting strategy failed by not quickly smothering the fire while it was small. "It's easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback," said a University of Arizona fire ecologist. "They were doing all they could."

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