2017 Fire Season Starts Early in Southern Arizona by Milton Craig

Sunday, April 23rd was another beautiful day in Southern Arizona. A bit breezy and temperatures were giving us notice that spring was ending and summer was well on the way. The idyllic scenery to the southwest was soon marred by a plume of smoke. The Sawmill fire had started. This spring had been dry, but it seemed too early for fire season. Little did we know that over the next several weeks we would experience not one, but two wildfires – the first 5 miles south and then the second, barely a mile east of our location at Charron Vineyards.

The biggest impact of the Sawmill fire was to the residents of the Hilton Ranch Road community, who were asked to evacuate. In addition, SR 83 was closed for nearly a week at the intersection of Sahuarita Road. This made access to our winery and locations further down SR 83 extremely difficult. Fortunately, however, the overall impact to life and property was reported as minimal.  The wind blowing almost directly to the east drove the fire through an unpopulated area between our location in Vail and the locations to the south; too close for comfort.

The fire ultimately destroyed 47,000 acres of grassland, but no lives were lost or structures destroyed. We would not be so fortunate just a few weeks later on Saturday, May 6. We were serving customers in our tasting room (on what is now being called Charron Vineyards Rd.) when I received a text alert from the Pima County Office of Emergency Management. We left the tasting room and looked off to the east to see billowing smoke and flames less than a mile down the road – the beginning of the Mulberry fire. We hustled our customers and employees ¾ of a mile westward down Charron Vineyards Road to SR 83 and safety watched and waited. Fortunately for us, the wind was blowing east/northeast away from our vineyard, but this was not good news for some of our neighbors. Visitors to the winery enjoy what seems to be a very remote location, but in reality, if you continue east past the winery, there are many roads with over 50 widely spaced households. Several of our neighbors were not as fortunate as us. Reports are that four structures were destroyed with two families losing their entire homes and all their possessions. Thankfully, no injuries were reported.

Firefighting equipment including air tankers were on the scene of the Mulberry fire almost immediately, but the high winds and number of structures in the area proved too much for the heroic efforts of the firefighters. In the end, 1800 acres were burned and several structures destroyed.

Both of these fires were human caused. The Sawmill fire by target shooting and the Mulberry fire’s specific cause is still being investigated. During monsoon season, we have little control over lightning causing fires, but human-caused fires can be prevented. We should all respect the fact that we live in a desert and take extreme caution with any activity that could possibly start a fire.

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