Pent up wildfire threat has Sonoita seeking more firefighters

Area depends on paid and volunteer firefighters

SONOITA, Ariz. - A delayed monsoon, a remote location and acres and acres of dry grass have the Sonoita Elgin Fire Department sweating the fire season and hoping for more volunteer firefighters.

In Sonoita you can see the wildfire danger in miles and miles of dry yellow grass.

The Sonoita area had an especially tough fire season last year when dry grass and stiff winds helped the Sawmill Fire spread to 46 thousand acres in a flash.  
This year has been surprisingly quiet but Sonoita/Elgin Fire Chief Joseph DeWolf knows a careless moment with a cigarette or a flash of lightning--and firefighters will have a fight on their hands.
With giant fires a threat all year long, and just thirteen paid firefighters, Chief DeWolf depends on 45 volunteers. He says many of them sign on to gain the sort of experience that will lead to a full time firefighting career.

Chief DeWolf says, “Our needs right now are pushed on wildland. So everybody that comes in, we make sure that they get their basic wildland. And then we do their practical skills, shelter, deployments, use of hand tools, how to operate our pumps, and then we get them experience as we get fires on the line with a seasoned firefighter."
Emma Laird served as an Emergency Medical Technician at U of A.  A U of A police officer who volunteered at Sonoita told her it was a good place to gain experience.

She says, “Coming down here you get to volunteer, you really get thrown into it.  I work on a fire engine.  I've worked on brush trucks, the ambulance, you really get to do everything down here and the people that work down here are more than willing to help you train, so I'm always learning new stuff every time I come to shift, so the ability to gain experience before I try to go onto a different fire department or wherever our volunteers are going to go is really the biggest draw for me."
And with 45 volunteers now, Chief De Wolf would like to take on maybe 20 more to have more firefighting power when luck runs out and a big fire rolls in.
If you’d like to volunteer with the Sonoita/Elgin Fire District Here’s how: Call 520-455-5854 or email:

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