East Desert Fire could mean ‘major disaster’

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Foothills Focus Executive Editor

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office evacuated more than 130 homes last weekend as the East Desert Fire inched closer to Cahava Springs.

As of 7:30 p.m. May 18, the fire was 20% contained at 1,500 acres, according to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. It didn’t grow throughout the night on May 18, even with increased fire activity.

Firefighters worked throughout the night to increase fire perimeter and provide structure protection for homes around Cahava Springs.

“They finally caught a break around 4 a.m. when winds died down and helped decrease fire activity,” said Tiffany Davila, with the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

The May 18 objectives included providing for firefighter and public safety, maintaining COVID-19 protocols and boxing in the fire—keeping it east of 26th Street and Saddle Mountain Road, west of the Cave Creek drainage, north of New River Road and south of the Tonto National Forest.

She said firefighters were challenged with warm temperatures and high winds, with gusts up to 22 mph.

The fire is burning in light, continuous fuels of grass and shrub and other desert vegetation. When fuels are in direct alignment with the wind, fire activity will increase greatly.

Also on May 18, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized the use of federal funds to assist Arizona in combating the East Desert Fire.

The state submitted a request for a Fire Management Assistant Grant (FMAG). At the time of the request, the fire threatened 132 residents, the commercial downtown area, and cultural and historical sites.

FMAGs provide federal funding for up to 75% of eligible firefighting costs. The Disaster Relief Fund provides allowances for FMAGs through FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause major disasters. Eligible costs covered by FMAGs can include expenses for field camps, equipment use, materials, supplies, and mobilization and demobilization activities attributed to fighting the fire.