Large-scale residential fire near airport destroys close to 20 structures

“It happens in a second and it spreads even quicker”
Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 11:55 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 19, 2021 at 5:13 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Friday afternoon, a fast-moving fire tore through several homes in a rural neighborhood just east of the Tucson International Airport.

At about 3:30 p.m., firefighters were called to the residential fire near Wilmot and Klafter roads.

Rural Metro Fire District, the Tucson Fire Department and Rincon Valley Fire District were able to fully contain the flames within about three hours.

Rural Metro Battalion Chief John Walka said investigators “listed the cause as accidental misuse of flammable materials.”

Melissa Tapman said she saw the smoke from miles away as she was driving home.

“Thicker and thicker and just darker and darker as we [drove closer],” she said. “I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, is that our place?!’ We thought it was the landfill.”

Luckily, Tapman’s property was spared. However, her relief was short-lived as she looked over her backyard fence at her friend’s home.

“Oh my God!” she said. “It’s completely gone! She just found out she’s pregnant. It’s just one thing after another.”

Rural Metro Assistant Fire Chief Jay Karlik told KOLD close to 20 structures including homes, RVs and sheds caught fire. Several vehicles were also destroyed.

Karlik estimates about 10 families were impacted.

“As of right now, we don’t have any casualties,” he said. “We were able to get a family of three out before the fire spread.”

Crews worked diligently in the unrelenting heat. They switched off regularly to avoid heat exhaustion.

With limited fire hydrants in the area, a water truck was called in to assist.

Tapman said she is beyond grateful to the responding fire agencies. She now asks the community to help those who have lost everything.

“Every agency that can pull together and help,” she said. “I mean, we just went through the pandemic. Most of them back there are just barely getting by. So, now where are they going to go? What are they going to do?”

Those who want to help can donate to the Red Cross.

Karlik urges everyone to be extra cautious, especially with these high temperatures.

“Fires can spark easily,” he said. “It happens in a second and it spreads even quicker.”

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.