It was a warm afternoon in early June when a hotshot crew from Sierra Vista was killing some time by hanging out at Fountain Park. They were sitting under the Kiwanis Ramada next to the Rotary Centennial Splash Park idly chewing on some fast food; one had a pad out and was drawing a picture of one of the others. They had been in the area on a wildland fire call and now were biding their time, waiting for another assignment.
At the time there were three fires burning in Southern Arizona not far from their home base, but it didn’t take long for things to heat up again in this area. A few days later the Bush Fire ignited near the Bush and Beeline highways 10 to 12 miles northeast of Fountain Hills. June turned out to be a milestone month for wildland burns in the state. As of June 23, a dozen wildfires had burned off about 400,000 acres in the state. The Bush Fire alone accounted for nearly half of that. With 90 percent containment late last week it had been measured at 190,000 acres, the fifth largest fire in Arizona history.
The biggest blazes along with the Bush include the Bighorn Fire near Tucson and Mangum Fire along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon have been the focus. However, ten or more smaller fires plagued firefighters close to the Phoenix metro area alone. A fire near Cave Creek was smaller but destroyed 10 structures including homes near a golf course. Fires have also started along Interstate 17 going north near New River and Anthem. Every day brings a new report of a wildfire, with exhausted firefighters seemingly racing from one to the next.
During the Bush Fire Fountain Hills was something of a way station for crews finding their way in or out of the fire theater. Brush fire engines and hotshot busses were seen at the local hotels trying to serve up a good breakfast for the crews each morning.
Wildfires have of course been around since vegetation started to grow, first lightning and careless man were the causes. Fire has also been a bit of nature’s way of cleaning house, but with more people, more interface the fires have become more intense and destructive. In the past 30 to 35 years desert wildfires have become more common. One of the first to come knocking at Fountain Hills was the Rio Fire in 1995. It burned out most of McDowell Mountain Park but Rio Verde and Fountain Hills were spared any physical damage, but there was emotional trauma that still lingers. By comparison to what has come since, the Rio Fire was relatively small, 23,000 acres – roughly eight times smaller than the Bush Fire.