Firefighters head home after week-long Sawmill Fire fight - Tucson News Now

Firefighters head home after week-long Sawmill Fire fight

Source: KOLD Source: KOLD
Source: KOLD Source: KOLD
Source: KOLD Source: KOLD
SONOITA, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

You would think the time on the front lines got the best of Louis Mirabelli. He has spent a week fighting the Sawmill Fire, since the first 911 call came in southeast of Green Valley on Sunday, April 23, around noon.

Since then, he's been sleeping in tents, under the smoky stars, with a regimented three square meals a day.

"No, it's actually quite the opposite. You actually want to stay. When you go home, it's kind of a bummer," Mirabelli said half-heartedly. "We're excited to see our families, and excited to go home and lay in our own beds, but we do like to be here."

It's not what you'd expect to hear from most people who spend an extended, exhausting amount of time away from home.


According to public information officers on the Sawmill Fire team, there will be a large drop in the number of personnel due to firefighters getting a better handle on the 46,991-acre wildfire. As of Sunday morning, it was 89 percent contained.

Staffing will be down to about 15 percent of where they were at their largest amount. Michelle Fidler with the incident management team said that by Monday, only about 120 personnel will remain on the fire lines. By Tuesday, they'll be down to just 40 people. At the maximum staffing level, there were 799 personnel working on the Sawmill Fire.

Mirabelli, a firefighter with the Palominas Fire Department, was one of those 799 who spent time away from family. But instead, he made the most of his time amongst team members and friends. There was a camaraderie at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds command post.

"These fires are all over the nation, that we go to. And no matter what part of the country you're in, what region, what department you're with, it's a big family," Mirabelli said. "We're all able to plug in. These incident management teams do a great job of bringing everybody together, and plug us in where we need to be in order to accomplish a mission."

The 'mission accomplished' message was shared with the southern Arizona community Sunday at a meeting near Rain Valley. Firefighters shared the plan of attack over the next few days and weeks, as they talked about the success they've had.

Nan Doolittle, a Rain Valley resident, was in awe. Her home was in-tact; roughly the same way she left it when she got the news to evacuate on Tuesday. 

"You stand in your house and you look at all your stuff and you go, 'I don't really need any of this.' I have my husband, my horses, my dogs, and go," she said, talking about the urgency needed to leave. "It's nice to come back and everything is still there. I'm just amazed at what they did here."

Thanks to the firefighting efforts, Doolittle is able to safely hold and kiss her loved ones.

Mirabelli is expected to do the same when he returns home after his week away.

"I'm going to hug my pregnant wife, and my children," he said smiling. "Right after my first shower."

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