Catalina Highway reopens as crews remain to mop up Molino Fire - Tucson News Now

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Catalina Highway reopens as crews head down mountain after Molino Fire

Smoke from wildfire in the Catalina Mountains. (Source: U.S. Forest Service - Coronado National Forest) Smoke from wildfire in the Catalina Mountains. (Source: U.S. Forest Service - Coronado National Forest)
Cars wait at the base of the mountain to be escorted through the closure. (Source: KOLD News 13) Cars wait at the base of the mountain to be escorted through the closure. (Source: KOLD News 13)
(Source: U.S. Forest Service - Coronado National Forest) (Source: U.S. Forest Service - Coronado National Forest)
Helicopter dropping water on the Molino Fire in the Catalinas. (Source: U.S. Forest Service) Helicopter dropping water on the Molino Fire in the Catalinas. (Source: U.S. Forest Service)
(Source: Pima County Sheriff's Department) (Source: Pima County Sheriff's Department)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Crews were headed down after battling the latest wildfire in the Catalina Mountains -- the Molino Fire that was burning near Mt. Lemmon.

At around 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, Catalina Highway reopened to all traffic.

While the crews are done right now, U.S. Forest Servic officials said they will still monitor the area for at least a week or two.

Earlier in the day, residents who live up the mountain and employees who work up there, were being escorted in their cars by Pima County Sheriff's deputies.

According to Heidi Schewel of the U.S. Forest Service, crews stopped the fire's advance at 50 acres. She said the fire did not grow overnight, after starting Tuesday.

The highway was closed because fire crews were concerned about danger for drivers. According to Giselle Koehn with the Coronado National Forest, they were worried about large boulders and charred debris falling onto cars.

The fire was worked by Tucson wildland firefighters and Mesa Hot Shots, high up in steep terrain. It was a rough battle for them with a lack of humidity, according to Koehn. And she said the idea of a months-long fire season has gone out the window.

"Really, we've moved to a year-round fire season here. We had a fire every month of the last year. Certainly in the hotter, dryer parts of the year, the growth is going to be quicker. The potential is a little bit larger for extreme fire behavior. But we are seeing fires throughout the season, at this point," Koehn said.

It's been a battle with a lack of rain recently. The First Alert Weather Team said the winter rain looked promising in late-December, but southern Arizona has been about an inch below average since Jan. 1.

It has little effect on the fuels firefighters were dealing with Tuesday and Wednesday.

"In these common fine fuels we have here lower in the desert, they dry out quickly. So yes, the rain will help the day of an incident or within a few days, but the winter rains aren't helping reduce fire behavior now," Koehn said.

This latest fire brought back memories for many of the June 2003 Aspen Fire which started small, but lasted a month. It burned more than 84,000 acres in the Catalina Mountains and destroyed 322 homes.

There were no homes in the area or pathway of this fire. But Koehn said it always has them on high alert, whether there is property or not in the fire's pathway.

Schewel said on Tuesday the fire is believed to be human caused since there were no recent lightning strikes in the area.

Schewel is reminding everyone to be extra cautious. 

"What are you doing that might cause a spark? Leaving a campfire unattended, tossing a cigarette butt out a window, welding on a windy day, recreational shooting ricochets, chains striking asphalt from towing," Schewel said on Tuesday. "There's a lot of things that can cause a spark."  

The Molino Campground at about milepost 4.5 was also closed.

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