WHETSTONE — William J. Sikorski, 65, was arrested Saturday, June 1 by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and jailed on a charge of reckless burning and cruelty to animals, said sheriff’s office public information officer Carol Capas.

Sikorski was arrested for allegedly starting a brushfire that burned more than 26 acres and threatened several homes in Woody Hills, a community west of Fairbank. Neighbors at the scene say Sikorski was burning trash at the time the brushfire happened. Sikorski found a skunk in a dog food bag and set the bag on fire, with the live skunk still inside. Once the bag started burning, the skunk’s fur caught fire, the animal escaped from the bag and raced through brush, which sparked the blaze that threatened nine homes throughout the area and spread to a salvage yard where 20 cars were destroyed.

Initially, fire officials reported five homes were threatened, but in an update on Monday, Whetstone Fire Chief Peter Bidon, who served as incident commander, said the number was actually nine.

Along with Saturday’s incident, Skikorski also is wanted for outstanding warrants by the Tombstone Marshal’s Office, Capas said.

The brushfire started in the vicinity of Fordney Lane in Woody Hills — located south of Highway 82, west of Fairbank — sometime around 8:35 a.m. and resulted in a multi-agency response where slurry planes assisted ground crews as they battled the blaze. The fire was completely out by 1:45 p.m.

“The coordinated effort of all the different agencies, along with the slurry planes, controlled what could have been a really bad situation,” said Peter Bidon’s wife, Melissa. “The biggest concerns were to protect structures in the area and prevent the fire from reaching the (San Pedro) river, which the fire crews and planes managed to do.”

Along with PBW, Whetstone, Huachuca City, Fry and Tombstone fire departments, the Bureau of Land Management, Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and planes based out of Willcox responded.

Rugged terrain and thick brush made fire fighting efforts difficult. While slow moving, the fire managed to spread northwest to Ralph’s Auto Towing and Recycler, a salvage yard along Bowers Road, creating concerns when the blaze reached some of the cars on the property. Twenty cars were destroyed.

Cochise County Sheriff’s deputies closed Bowers Road where it meets Sanders Road and residents along Bowers were evacuated, with Sheriff Deputy David Norton going door-to-door recommending evacuations.

“The majority of the units left the scene at 5 p.m. that day, but PBW left the next morning because they were watching for hot spots,” Peter Bidon said last Monday.

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