The Sawmill Fire is shown erupting from an exploding target — with blue smoke curling off the fire's fringes — in a video just obtained by the Arizona Daily Star.
The 49-second video clearly shows the fire starting in yellow grassland near a stand of mesquite trees from the exploding target on state land in the Santa Rita Mountain foothills on April 23, 2017. Towards the end of the video, a male voice is heard saying "Start packing up!" twice.
The Star obtained the video from the U.S. Forest Service through the Freedom of Information Act. The service, which led the investigation into the fire's origin, blacked out persons shown in the video. In a letter to Star reporter Tony Davis, Forest Service official Tracy Perry cited two exemptions to FOIA allowing the withholding of information to protect peoples' privacy. Perry is the service's director of Law Enforcement and Investigations.
Border Patrol Agent Dennis Dickey, who has admitted starting the fire with an explosive target, ignited the blaze during a gender reveal party that was held to show the gender of his wife's expected baby, his attorney Sean Chapman told the Star in September. Since gender reveal parties typically use blue smoke to announce a male baby and pink smoke to announce a girl, Dickey's wife presumably was expecting a boy.
Dickey agreed to pay $220,000 in restitution after he pleaded guilty Sept. 27 in federal court to a misdemeanor charge of causing a fire without a permit.
The wildfire began when Dickey shot a target that contained Tannerite, an explosive substance designed to detonate when shot by a high-velocity firearm, U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Brent Robinson wrote in an affidavit filed Sept. 20 in U.S. District Court. The explosion was caught on film by a witness.
Tannerite is a legal compound that has been linked to wildfires in several other Western states.
Before the fire was over, it had burned 47,000 acres and cost $8.2 million to extinguish, with nearly 800 firefighters battling the blaze.