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Mittry Lake brush fire now 40 percent contained
The Laguna Fire, which has burned between 400 to 800 acres of vegetation along the Colorado River about 15 miles Northeast of Yuma, was man caused, the Bureau of Land Management reported.
However the exact cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The fire, which began at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday, is burning salt cedar, willow, cottonwood and mesquite in the Colorado River riparian area. The fire started in California and hopped the river into Arizona. Approximately 95 percent of the fire is in Arizona.
The fire has destroyed a historic abandoned cabin known as “Pappin House” and portions of Betty’s Kitchen Watchable Wildlife Area and Interpretive Trail near Laguna Dam.
A large sign at Betty’s Kitchen, a ramada, a wooden footbridge, some vegetation and a BLM water truck were burned during the wildfire.
A second ramada and bathrooms at the location were spared.
The ramada and footbridge had been restored by Chris Shiplet, a member of Venture Crew 8051 as an Eagle Scout project, and 60 other volunteers in September of 2009.
According to BLM, Pappin House, which was built in the 1940s from utility poles, arroweed, dirt and adobe, has not been inhabited since the 50s and is about half a mile from Betty’s Kitchen. It was surrounded by cottonwood and salt cedar trees, which fueled the fire.
As of press time Thursday, the fire had been 40 percent contained, but officials with BLM estimate the entire fire will not be contained until sometime on Monday.
Firefighters were able to save a residence known as the “Ditch Rider House,” where employees control the water and supply it to area farmers.
That house is just south of Pratt Farm.
“They have a place to sleep tonight thanks to the firefighters,” said Pamela Mathis, BLM public information officer.
The fire had not spread any further as of Thursday night.
“It hasn’t grown in its footprint,” Mathis said. “What is burning is inside the interior of the same footprint.”
James Stewart, Bureau of Land Management incident commander, said there have been no injuries or fatalities, and no homes have been evacuated.
“We did have some campers on Mittry Lake on jetties. They saw what was going on and voluntarily left, but we did not evacuate any of the homes or the communities out in this area.”
Two large “Helitack” helicopters, used to help ground crews perform aerial firefighting, arrived on scene Thursday and were utilized during the day.
One can hold 2,000 gallons of water while the other can hold about 150 gallons of water. The water is being pulled straight out of Mittry Lake.
“Because there is a water source right there, it is quick for them to make runs,” Mathis said.
“When you get one dose of 2,000 gallons at a place where a firefighter says, ‘this is a hot spot,’ it really aids the men and women on the ground. Then they can go in and do more clean up work. It is a team effort, but it does absolutely assist.”
The helicopters are typically not used during night hours due to safety issues, Mathis said.
There are currently about 130 firefighters from several agencies fighting the inferno.
Fire engines and crews from the Rural/Metro, Imperial County, and Yuma Proving Ground Fire Departments worked with crews from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management fought the fire throughout Wednesday night.
At around 2 a.m. Thursday morning, Stewart explained there was about 45 to 50 percent relative humidity with temperatures dropping to the mid-50s. Normally, he noted, a fire would calm down in that type of environment, but he added this time the fire did not diminish.
“Because this is a wind-driven fire, when the winds die down, what we typically expect to see is the flames or the fire to also do the same,” he said, commenting that was not the case in some areas that were affected. “It didn’t react the way it should have reacted.”
During the late night hours on Wednesday, Stewart said the flames reached up to 120 feet in height, noting that Arizona Public Service representative Mark Headington reported a momentary power outage in the area.
As the fire is suspected of being man made, Stewart reminded the public to be aware of the recent fire restrictions that were put into place on Monday by the BLM.
The fire restrictions include about 2.5 million acres of public lands in Arizona and along the Colorado River in southern California.
Fire and smoking restrictions have been enforced on all public lands in the BLM Yuma and Lake Havasu Field Office jurisdictions.
An abundance of vegetation from the spring rains is now drying out and dying, making potential fuel for wildfires as temperatures increase. The restrictions will stay in place until conditions warrant rescinding.
“This is an example of just how dry and how bad the conditions are right now,” Stewart said about the fire. “Be careful if you’re going to go out on public lands. Educate yourself on what those restrictions are.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858.