A government report suggests that someone working for a proposed silver mine accidentally started a wildfire last year in the Patagonia Mountains.
The Arizona Daily Star reports that the report by the U.S. Forest Service says the Wildcat Fire was started on May 6 “on private land by miner grinding on equipment” and burned 398 acres of public forest before it was put out at a cost of nearly $300,000.
A map accompanying the report shows the burned area covering much of the same ground where the Forest Service has authorized American Minerals Inc. to start drilling 15 exploratory holes to look for silver for a proposed mine project. The mine site is about six miles south of Patagonia.
The Forest Service’s approval in October is being challenged by a lawsuit that was filed by two environmental groups and a Patagonia community watchdog group. The lawsuit alleges that damage from the fire was one reason to oppose the drilling.
The report was obtained from the Forest Service by the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Forest Service has declined public records requests from the Daily Star for its reports on this fire and another blaze.
Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch declined to comment on the report, saying the service’s investigation of the Wildcat Fire hasn’t been concluded. Chris Jones, president of Wildcat Silver, American Minerals’ parent company, also declined to comment on the report.
Ike Isaacson, Patagonia’s mayor and chief of the town’s volunteer fire department, said he believes the fire was started by a contractor working for Wildcat Silver because its people were the only ones in the area at the time.
Isaacson’s understanding was that the contractor wasn’t a miner but someone who was improving roads for future mining or exploration work.
“I think they were doing it in a safe manner. It was just windy that day,” said Isaacson, who neither supports nor opposes the silver mine but wants to ensure it doesn’t damage the town’s water supply.
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