Tuesday, June 25, 2024
HomeNotes From KathyA Wildfire Comes to Tucson

A Wildfire Comes to Tucson

For the past week we’ve been watching the Bighorn Fire in the mountains a few miles north of our house. It was started by a lightning strike one evening that turned into a small fire by morning. Over the next few days the fire grew and spread. Strong winds came up and the fire took a deep breath before pushing itself up ridges and down canyons, and heading towards neighborhoods.

This is a view of the fire on June 12 as dusk fell. Hand crews are hard-pressed to fight fires in this terrain. The slopes are incredibly steep and covered in loose rock and gravel that can slide underfoot. Then, all the plants are armored in some kind of spike. When cactus’s lose their grasp of the thing soil, they turn into rolling fire balls full of thorns.


A view of the mountains behind our house painted with slurry from the firefight the day before. Slurry, or fire retardant contains ammonium phosphate, a fertilizer. It also includes chemicals to regulate how the slurry drops, emulsifiers that render it gooey so it sticks to targets, and a coloring agent so air crews can track where they’ve dropped.

That’s when the air battle began. Helicopters with buckets dropped water, and small lead planes led DC-10s and 727s along cliffs and between ridges to drop loads of red fire retardant slurry. From my parents’ patio we had a great view of a series of slurry drops just a few miles from their house.

“But why are they dropping there?!” we kept asking each other. “They should drop it on the fire over at that other spot!” Still, time after time, the slurry planes followed the lead plane to the same location. Then we laughed at ourselves, because who we were to be giving firefighting advice? We had nothing more than opinions. Obviously, the spotter, the firefighters, and the pilots had a much better view of the fire, and a lot more expertise and knowledge to draw on.

As it turns out, the drops were all near a small subdivision just over the hill that we couldn’t see. Though those folks had to evacuate, their homes were saved, and they were able to return the next morning.

What Serves You Better – Random Opinions
or Expert Guidance?

At a cost of about $42,000 per DC-10 retardant drop, no one wants to waste a drop of that slurry. So we listen to the experienced, knowledgeable people. And I’m happy to pay them to use that experience on our behalf.

Which got me to thinking…

For the past seven years, it has been my mission, as the publisher/editor of On Pasture, to find, read, and translate information that can help you be more sustainable and profitable. I’ve sorted through it all to find what works and what doesn’t, and what you can believe and what you should take with a grain of salt. I’ve shared articles from experienced farmers and ranchers, folks who have improved the landscapes they work on, and done it profitably as well, giving you examples you can adapt to your own operation.

On Pasture is kind of like that little spotter plane making sure the DC-10 heads down the right ridge. We help you make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

Thanks for reading!


I took this series of photos from the roof or our house. You can see a lead plane showing a DC-10 exactly where to drop 9,400 gallons of retardant.

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Vothhttps://onpasture.com
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. The Bighorn fire came to about 6 miles south of town, but stopped. Cattle pastures here are mostly brush, but cattle tend to break down dead growth and trample it. When it’s on the ground, termites and other insects use it, break it down, bury it, so there’s not much fire load. Ranchers helped slow and stop it. Much thanks to folks like Carlink and others. May it rain. May the rains be common and constant small showers to soak the earth and bless it.

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