After steering flames away from the mountaintop village of Summerhaven on Thursday, crews battling the wind-whipped Bighorn Fire launched a bid to keep the blaze from reaching homes on the other side of Mount Lemmon.
Work was expected to continue through the night and into Friday to establish a break line between the fire, which has doubled in size since Tuesday, and the communities of Oracle and San Manuel, officials said.
Meanwhile, firefighting efforts also remain focused near Summerhaven to prevent the blaze from taking another run at the community, said Greg Heule, a fire information officer. Crews have managed to keep the fire from the Mount Lemmon Sky Center observatory and the western edge of Summerhaven.
“So far, the lines we have built have held,” Heule said, but “we can’t say Summerhaven is out of the woods yet.”
On the north side of Mount Lemmon, flames are still about 10 to 15 miles away from Oracle and San Manuel. Officials ordered the evacuations of residences in the Peppersauce Canyon to Highjinks Road and Campo Bonito areas near Oracle, which is in the “set” status for possible evacuation.
Firefighters are resurrecting and old fire line they cut during the 2003 Aspen Fire to protect those communities around Oracle and are “very confident” they will succeed, Heule said.
Closer to Tucson, areas lower on Mount Lemmon were also ordered evacuated north of Willow Canyon to Organization Ridge Road.
At Summerhaven, he said fire crews were buoyed by the success of their efforts Thursday to steer the flames northward by creating a containment line that deprived the fire of fuel as it approached the community.
The challenge now is to make sure the flames don’t creep back, Heule said.
Burnouts, controlled fires started to deprive a bigger fire of fuel, are occurring adjacent to the west side of the Catalina highway, he said.
June 19 marks the two-week point since the lightning-caused fire began June 5. As of Thursday, more than 800 personnel were assigned to the fire and more than $10 million had been spent, a price tag fueled by heavy use of firefighting aircraft.
Though the fire has grown to 31,208 acres, and has threatened several residential areas, to date no lives or structures have been lost. It was about 40% contained Thursday, mainly on the south and western flanks of the blaze.
The estimated containment date is July 4.
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