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Crews continue to battle 20,000-acre Sawmill Fire in southern Arizona

(Twitter Photo/@GVFDPIO)

PHOENIX — Nearly 400 personnel have continued to battle the Sawmill Fire, a blaze that has consumed more than 20,000 acres near Tucson.

Fire officials said Wednesday the fire, about 10 miles south of Green Valley, was 7 percent contained. Green Valley is about 40 miles south of downtown Tucson. The fire started over the weekend.

Gusting winds had carried the blaze across Highway 83. Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels wrote on Facebook that the highway was closed from Interstate 10 to Highway 82 on Tuesday afternoon, until further notice.

Windy conditions were expected to fall off some Wednesday, which should help firefighters.

“There were big flare-ups,” Bill Briggs, who lives in the area, told KOLD-TV about the fire. “You’d be watching it and all of a sudden there would be a huge flare-up where flames would shoot way, way up in the air.”

Nearly 200 residents voluntarily evacuated by Tuesday but some were returning home. The Pima County Office of Emergency Management had lifted evacuations in Singing Valley and around Greaterville.

Lt. John Cambra of the Southeast Arizona Incident Management Team told the TV station that two Type 1 hotshot crews were helping fight the blaze.

Eight Phoenix-area fire departments send firefighters or equipment to help battle the fire. The firefighters may be gone as long as two weeks.

“We want to help our neighbors and that’s part of what we do because if we ever have a major emergency here then they would do the same for us,” Kevin Bailey with the Central Arizona Wildland Response Team said.

A DC-10 airliner that has been modified to fight wildfires was also brought in to fight the fire.

Crews have the fire about 7 percent contained. The fire is threatening a handful of homes. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

The Sawmill Fire could be the first of a long wildfire season. Despite Arizona recording one of its best winter in years in terms of rain and snowfall, experts estimate the southern two-thirds of the state will experience higher-than-usual fire danger by the summer.

Carrie Templin with the Tonto National Forest said people who own homes and businesses in fire-prone areas should take precautions.

“When it dries out, unless you create a buffer around your home, the fire will keep running, especially if we get winds,” she said. “Clear out the dead brush and weeds at least 30 feet from your home and make sure the trees aren’t touching your roof. Clean out the gutters.”

Last year, about 310,000 acres burned in Arizona.

KTAR’s Jim Cross contributed to this report.

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