Gem mine rebuilding after the Bush Fire

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    MESA, Arizona (KPHO) — A unique gem mine in the mountains northeast of Mesa is in the process of rebuilding after a wildfire wiped it out in 2020.

“The fire came roaring up the mountain. It was so intense,” the mine’s owner, Kurt Cavano said, as he gathered charred debris to be removed from the site.

When the Bush Wildfire burned through nearly 200,000 acres northeast of the Valley, the flames raced up the side of Four Peaks, scorching everything in their path, including the mine.

“When we were able to get a helicopter and fly over it, it was devastating. It’s 20 years of work and equipment, and everything was completely vaporized,” Cavano said.

Cavano has owned the Four Peaks Mining Company for two decades and takes pride in the unique form of amethyst which can be found here. Siberian Red Amethyst is only found near the peak of one of the “Four Peaks” and in a part of Siberia.

Mike and Tai Blank, a husband and wife mining team, live and work on the peak with their dog. They initially planned to take cover inside the mine as the wildfire grew closer. Luckily, they followed the advice to evacuate and hiked down a safe path on the mountain. Hiding inside the mine shaft would have killed them. The fire would have sucked all the oxygen from the small cavern and suffocated them.

The fire destroyed their small home on the side of a cliff, along with all of the mining equipment, generators, and tools. Full aluminum ladders were reduced to puddles of molten metal. Newly-installed solar panels melted, too. Covid delayed the rebuilding process, but late in 2021, the work began.

Cavano hired a helicopter to hoist charred debris off the mountain and carry building supplies back up. To offset the cost of the chopper, which runs $1,500 an hour, Cavano is allowing small tour groups to visit the mine. Financially, Cavano says the mining operation itself just about breaks even each year. Typically, a ton of purple rocks from his mine is flown to Thailand each year. Only a couple of handfuls of valuable, commercially-viable amethyst return to be sold.

“It’s really a passion project for me, which is why I didn’t have to think hard about whether to rebuild,” Cavano said.

There are stories about Native Americans using the amethyst in tools and arrows and rumors about Siberian Red stones being in the Spanish Crown. Cavano sees it as his duty to preserve the site responsibly by rebuilding in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way. They’re adding the solar panels again, along with a water infiltration system to use the rainfall.

“The mine has such history. It supports the jewelry trade, and it’s been a passion for 20 years. We have to rebuild,” he said.

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