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Crew captain explains why Woodbury Fire has been so difficult to fight

(Joe Barreras Photo)

PHOENIX — Perryville Fire Crew Captain Joe Barreras said he and his team have been on the ground battling the Woodbury Fire burning east of Phoenix since day one.

“We were out on the Woodbury Fire from approximately an hour after it started,” he said.

The human-caused fire began burning about 5 miles northwest of Superior on June 8. As of Monday, it had grown to 115,720 acres, making it the sixth-largest in state history. The fire was 48% contained.

Barreras, who’s in his 21st season battling wildfires, leads Arizona’s only all-female fire crew made up of 20 inmates from the Perryville prison. The crew spent 15 days battling the fire.

He said the fire was in the Superstition Mountains when they were first deployed. The terrain in that area is steep, rocky and desolate – making their job difficult.

The grass that grew as a result of record rain during the winter also made it difficult.

“We have a carpet of grass blanketing most of the desert this year,” Barreras said. “So instead of patchy fuels in most of these areas, we have a fine fuel that carries fire throughout the desert landscape.”

He added they also had to watch out for rattlesnakes and scorpions while they were out battling the fire.

Despite the Woodbury Fire’s size, there have been no reports of structures being lost. Barreras said he credits the work his crew and others have done.

“I believe the team is doing a good job in mitigating and taking care of the values at risk,” he said.

The Perryville Fire Crew is one of a dozen wildland firefighting crews in Arizona that are made up of inmates. Each crew has 20 inmates who are considered low-level offenders from state prisons.

The crews are supervised under the direction of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Management along with Arizona Department of Corrections staff.

Barreras said it’s unclear if his crew will return to battle the Woodbury Fire. But he said they’re ready to help if needed.

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