San Manuel Miner
At approximately 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 12, the Oracle Fire Department received a call of smoke being seen in the area of John Adams and Paseo Encino streets. An engine was sent and arrived within five minutes. They observed a brush fire near some homes. The firefighters that had responded saw that the fire would get away from them and immediately ordered outside resources contacted through the state dispatch system. They ordered engines and brush trucks. Coronado Fire ordered more engines and a helicopter equipped with a water bucket. The helicopter would be used later as their eye in the sky.
“My firefighters did exactly what they were supposed to do,” said Oracle Fire Chief Larry Southard. “We’ve been planning for this type of fire for many years. Even though we’re ready for it, it quickly got out of what we could handle and we called in our neighboring fire departments,” said Chief Southard. “My instruction to my firefighters during this extreme fire season has been that they are only going to get one chance and if a fire gets away from them to call in every available resource through the state dispatch system and Coronado Fire.”
The fire rapidly went around a house and jumped Paseo Encino igniting more dry brush. It then jumped John Adams Street and began climbing a slope pushed by the wind and headed for a home at the top of the hill. The house caught fire. As more firefighters and resources arrived a decision was made to contain the fire. “We decided early in the fire to draw a line at Cody Loop Road and to do whatever it took to not let the fire jump across Cody Loop,” said Chief Southard.
Fourteen different agencies responded. At one point 85 firefighters were on the ground. Traffic and evacuation quickly became a major problem. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu sent 30 deputies to Oracle including himself. The affected fire area was quickly blocked off. Pinal County deputies and the Oracle Fire Department worked effectively together to evacuate six to eight homes in the area.
The fire was effectively contained by 7 p.m. It covered four acres in the John Adams/Paseo Encino/Cody Loop area. One home and several sheds burned down. The home was owned by Barbara and Ron Chatham. Six homes were impacted by the fire although damage was limited to their yards. Four of the homes were saved by the firefighters actions, two of the houses were saved as the result of following the Firewise program. The house that burned down did not have a defensible perimeter of 30 feet as recommended by the Firewise program. The home owners were new to the area and had been planning on using the program to clear brush around their home.
A power pole burned down and a gas meter was put out of commission when plastic parts melted leaving two homes without power or gas. Oracle fire crews remained on the scene overnight. Thirty-nine firefighters spent the night at the Mountain Vista gymnasium in case they were needed. On Friday morning crews were at the scene of the fire removing debris and uncovering hot spots underneath the rubble which were then doused with water. Firefighters remain on alert in the area including the Wildland Fire Crew out of Florence. The cause of the fire was investigated by Golder Ranch Fire Department and the point of ignition appears to be a small cotton cloth with linseed oil. It was left out to dry on a line. It apparently ignited and hot embers fell on the nearby grass. The breezy conditions then accelerated and spread the fire. No other details were available.
During the fire, three fire fighters overheated and had to sit in an ambulance to cool down and rehydrate. Their blood pressure was monitored until it was felt they could go back on the line. There were no other injuries to firefighters or to civilian personnel reported. Oracle’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members brought bottled water and Gatorade for the firefighters. About five hours into the incident they delivered 27 pizzas to 75 hungry firefighters.
Fire Chief Southard said, “I am very proud of my crew. They did an excellent job! I am extremely pleased with the neighboring fire departments and agencies that came to help us and would like to thank them. I made a neighborhood tour with Bud Bristow this morning. We visited with the affected homeowners who indicated how appreciative they were for our efforts. I’ve heard nothing but praise for Oracle firefighters and CERTs. We’ve had a number of people come into the station today eager to get on the Firewise program.”
Reporter’s Note: As a witness to some of the firefighting, I was impressed by everyone’s professionalism and the way the incident was managed. The tenacity of the firefighters in fighting the fire was enlightening. Fighting a fire in 100 degree temperatures while wearing the heavy protective gear is demanding physically and mentally. Not to mention that these people put their health and lives on the line to protect our communities. If this isn’t a wake up call for people in Oracle to be Firewise, I don’t know what is. If you would like to learn more about or join the Oracle Firewise Program contact the fire station at 520-896-2980 or visit the Oracle Fire Department website: www.oraclefire.org.