Sawmill Fire: One year later

Sawmill Fire: One year later
Area burned by Sawmill Fire in 2017. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Flames from the 2017 Sawmill Fire (Source: Tucson News Now)
Flames from the 2017 Sawmill Fire (Source: Tucson News Now)

SONOITA, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The area surrounding Sonoita, Arizona is a much different atmosphere today than it was on April 23, 2017.

"You could smell smoke. The sky was kind of an orange color. What a difference," Jennifer Rinaldi, the manager of the Sonoita Fairgrounds said.

On this day in 2018, the skies were clear and the wind was not blowing. There were no flames in sight.

It was much more peaceful than the day the Sawmill Fire erupted.

Rinaldi helped house hundreds of firefighters at the Sonoita Fairgrounds. Her space served as a central hub for those battling the blaze.

"We had trucks from every fire department you can imagine," she said.

Gusty winds sent the Sawmill Fire burning through nearly 47,000 acres,  after an off duty Border Patrol agent ignited the flames while target shooting.

It left a community in distress as some evacuated their homes and sparked fear and doubt over whether the long-time Sonoita Horse races would happen.

"I've been here for 14 years and we've never seen a fire season like that. We never used to have the fear that we have now of the fires because they were
always small enough," she told Tucson News Now.

But, Rinaldi said, Mother Nature was no match for the Sonoita community.

"The show must go on. 102 years, 103 this year," Rinaldi said. "You can't stop tradition."

This year the town is preparing for another race, happy that so far there hasn't been another spark.

As new grass grows and fire danger remains high, the community is more prepared than ever before if another blaze breaks out.

"The aftermath was the start of our community really stepping up and becoming more fire aware," said Chief Joseph DeWolf.

DeWolf told us several people in the area have promoted Fire Wise training in their neighborhoods. More and more have made sure to create defensible space around their home.

It's a lesson DeWolf said everyone can benefit from.

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