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Thu, June 27

Doce Fire threatened hundreds of local homes

Janet Cameron/Courtesy photo<br>The Doce Fire surged past Granite Mountain June 18, 2013. Investigators still have not determined the fire’s cause.

Janet Cameron/Courtesy photo<br>The Doce Fire surged past Granite Mountain June 18, 2013. Investigators still have not determined the fire’s cause.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the start of the Doce wildfire near Prescott, and the perpetrator remains unknown to the public.

U.S. Forest Service law enforcement spokespersons said Tuesday that the cause remains under investigation, and they cannot discuss the investigation.

The wind-whipped fire forced the evacuation of 480 homes in the Granite Basin and Williamson Valley on the day someone ignited it, as it marched up one side of boulder-strewn Granite Mountain and then back down the other side before sunset. The fire grew to approximately 4,000 acres in the first seven hours.

A top-level national team joined the firefighting effort on June 19 and firefighters were able to save all the homes, to the surprise of many residents since it burned right into the backyards of homes in the American Ranch subdivision.

A well-coordinated ini-tial attack, the smooth transition to the Type I team, and plenty of available air support were among the factors that stopped the fire before it burned any homes.

Coincidentally, many of the Type I team members were from Prescott including incident commander Tony Sciacca, who used to be the fire management officer on this part of the Prescott Forest.

Among the initial attack leaders was Eric Marsh, the Granite Mountain Hotshots superintendent who died June 30, 2013 alongside 18 of his 19 crewmembers battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire.

His hotshot crew hiked up its namesake mountain into the Doce fire to save the largest alligator juniper on record.

The blaze was 100-percent contained at 6,767 acres on June 27. It torched most of the Granite Mountain Wilderness Area.

It ignited at about 11:30 a.m. on June 18, 2013 in the Doce Pit area of the Prescott National Forest. The ignition point is obvious to onlookers today. It's next to a pullout for a popular target shooting spot 7/10ths of a mile south of Iron Springs Road. The area is littered with spent rounds.

Retired volunteer firefighter Jeff Lueck was among the first to spot the smoke that morning while he was driving on Iron Springs Road. He drove onto Dosie Pit Road and said a car suddenly came flying up the road.

The young driver had a shocked look on his face. Lueck swerved and barely missed the car in his one-ton truck. He called for help as the flames leapt into the trees. He was unable to get the car's license plate number.

Forest Service spokesperson Marie Derobertis said that, while the agency can't release any details about the investigation, she will notify the public when the investigation is complete.

The special agent who is investigating the cause has no estimate of when the investigation will be completed. She preferred to not have her name released.

She is the only special agent covering the 4.6 million acres of the Prescott, Kaibab and Coconino national forests, although the Prescott also has two local law enforcement officers who patrol the forest.

The special agent has an average load of 40-60 cases, Derobertis related. She investigates fire causes as well as all kinds of other cases such as mining law violations, timber theft, vehicle accidents, illegal immigration operations, illegal marijuana grows, and theft or damage to archaeological sites.

"The Forest Service law enforcement staff is stretched very thin because of budget cuts," Derobertis related. "She's terribly overloaded. She's probably one of our busier agents."

The Prescott Forest alone averages about 90 wildfires every year, and 40 percent of them are human caused.

"It's very difficult to find a suspect," Derobertis added.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder

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