“ALL WE NEED IS A SPARK!” SEVERE FIRE SEASON PREDICTED IN U.S. SOUTH WEST: A FOREST OF “TORCHED TOOTHPICKS” WILL BE OUR LEGACY
Large wildfires raging out of control have become a summertime event in the South West United States during the past decade. As global warming has spread its accumulative affects upon the forests of the West, years of fire suppression allowing small trees to thicken forests and ground cover to grow, dry out and die becoming ready fuel for lightning strikes during the monsoon months. Mother natures cleansing affect on forests from annual fires have slowed due to intense fire suppression attempting to save homes built into the forest and large chunks of National Forests. Man-made fires, have become more and more commonplace as folks try to commune with nature and now find themselves running from it. This year’s Colorado Waldo Canyon fire, the worst in the state’s history turned deadly, killing two in its path as hot winds fan and push flame across fire breaks, highways and into residential subdivisions and endangered the U.S. Air Force Academy on the edge of Colorado Spring, Colorado. More than 32,000 residents have been evacuated and 346 homes were lost, that fire is now 77% contained and is being fought by 1500 firefighter from all over the Unites States. As this post is written, fires are being fought in most all the states of the American South West, the website http://www.inciweb.orgshows closures, containment, sat-maps and safety warnings. The site is being constantly updated by the boots on the ground at each and every fire showing assets involved in the fight for containment.
As Colorado residents were allowed to drive through their neighborhoods and glimpse their fire-attacked subdivisions, some found homes untouched, mail still in the mailbox and melted bowling balls, most however, found little they still recognized and now bears are moving from the forests and foraging through the city trash left behind by folks escaping the fires according to the Denver Post who issued the below multiple state round-up.
— Utah: Fire commanders say Utah’s largest wildfire has consumed more than 150 square miles and shows no sign of burning itself out. Hundreds of firefighters are trying to hold the Clay Springs fire from advancing on the ranching towns of Scipio and Mills on the edge of Utah’s west desert. The fire has destroyed one summer home and threatens 75 others. The fire was 48 percent contained on Sunday.
— Montana: Crews in eastern Montana strengthened fire lines overnight on a 246-square-mile complex of blazes burning about 10 miles west of Lame Deer. More than 500 firefighters are now at the lightning-caused fires that started Monday and have destroyed more than 30 structures.
— Wyoming: A wind-driven wildfire in a sparsely populated area of southeastern Wyoming exploded from eight square miles to nearly 58 square miles in a single day, and an unknown number of structures have burned. About 200 structures were considered threatened.
— Idaho: Firefighters in eastern Idaho had the 1,038-acre Charlotte fire 80 percent contained Sunday but remained cautious with a forecast of high winds and hot temperatures that could put hundreds of homes at risk.
— Colorado: The last evacuees from the High Park Fire in northern Colorado have been allowed to return home as crews fully contained the blaze. The 136-square-mile fire killed one resident and destroyed 259 houses, a state record until the fire near Colorado Springs.
-New Mexico: Baldy-Whitewater fires have burned out the heart of the Gila wilderness, both fires are lightning caused blazes in the New Mexico Gila Wilderness, the flames has grown together causing the worst forest fire in New Mexico’s history. More than ten per cent of the Gila has been lost to this blaze and experts say it will between 80-200 years before the damage from this fire is restored. Firefighter have been unable to get the upper hand on the blaze and expect to fight the blaze until the beginning of the monsoons. At present that fire is 87% contained.
In Arizona, the Grapevine Fire began July lst from a monsoon caused lightning strike and is 10% contained and has blackened 14,000 acres and is being attacked by seven wildfire crews from all over southern Arizona. As the state moves into the 4th of July Holiday, fear mounts as campers retreat from the desert heat seeking cooler and higher altitudes and their increased presence increases the chance of careless or accidental fires. Arizona in the last decade, each year has broken state records for wildfires.Last years Wallow fire shown in this picture was taken on June 9, 2011 as the fire’s total hit 400,000 acres–but on June 13, 2011, the Wallow fire become Arizona’s largest wildfire on record. The total hit 538,000 acres (800 square miles). Grew bigger than Arizona’s previous record fire the Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002 which burned 467,000 acres. The big difference between the two megafires, though, was the damage. The Wallow Fire has been far less destructive than its predecessor, destroying only 31 homes compared with 465 lost a decade ago. Nearly 6,000 people were evacuated. A DC-10 Air Tanker, capable of dropping up to 12,000 gallons of fire retardant in seconds, was deployed to help fight the fire. Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, of Benson, and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, of Tucson, were charged with five low-level federal offenses related to the campfire they started in late May and are alleged to have not extinguished properly. The blaze destroyed 32 homes, four businesses and more than 30 barns, sheds and other buildings during the six weeks that it burned out of control in the Apache National Forest.The blaze cost more than $79 million to suppress, according to court records, and took a heavy toll on the mountain hamlet of Greer, where 21 homes were lost. As it moved through the forest, the fire nearly destroyed the communities of Alpine, Nutrioso and Eagar along the way, the 2011 Wallow fire was contained on July 8, one year ago.
On going research from Northern Arizona University suggests wildfires may cause soils to release large amounts of greenhouse gas that could potentially speed up climate change. Some researchers are blaming massive wildfire on overgrown forests. Four of the worst fires in Arizona have happened in the last ten years, and the head of the U.S. Forest service says to expect more fires like that across the West.
William Wallace Covington of Northern Arizona University has been studying Arizona forest for decades. He says there are just too many trees for the climate in the West. He advocates for the U.S. to recreate an “ecological” logging industry to restore the traditional landscape. Working with the U.S. Forest Service, Covington conducted 60 to 70 prescribed burns in the ponderosa pine forests around Flagstaff, learning in the process that fire alone was not the answer. Low-intensity fires didn’t kill enough of the small-diameter trees that have increased tree density in Arizona’s ponderosa forests from 20 to 50 per acre to about 900 trees per acre. Hot fires worked, but they also killed some big trees. A few of the fires he set were “just a hair-trigger from a crown fire,” Covington said. His current prescription for restoring Arizona’s forests to presettlement conditions calls for the forests to be thinned and then burned, with protocols developed with the U.S. Forest Service by the Ecological Restoration Institute Covington created at NAU. Four Arizona forests – the Kaibab, Coconino, Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves – have secured funding from Congress and adopted a plan to thin and burn 2.4 million acres of ponderosa pine forest through the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. Now the Ecological Restoration Institute is working on new methods of restoring forests blackened by recent 100,000-plus-acre fires.
While the Wallow Fire was stealing headlines from every blaze in the South West of the United States, Southern Arizona had two smaller but huge on their own scale burning at the same time. The man-caused HorseShoe2 Fire in Southeast Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountain Range was burning 223,000 acres and further west near Sierra Vista, Az the Monument Fire burned 22 homes through some canyon subdivisions evacuating folks from their homes while firefighter tried to defend the timberline homes.
Chiricahua HorseShoe2 Fire
The Chiricahua Mountain Range in Southeast Arizona, were hit pretty hard by the HorseShoe2 Fire reports Christopher Guiterman PhD student in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. Many of those trees are Apache pine, which can re-sprout from the stump if the roots are healthy and the trees are young (a rare feat for pines) but as of last November when I visited down there, many of these same trees were completely killed. Attached is a photo of a new sprout. The oak trees and many other species will re-sprout and re-occupy the site rapidly, however. The fire through this area was pretty intense and had severe effects on mortality – note that the trees are black throughout the stem and branches, this indicates a high-intensity crown fire. Given that there have been few fires in the last 100+ years down there, it’s doubtful previous fires have had the kind of severity over such a large area that the Horseshoe2 fire had. Fires these days are different – we have high fuel loads and hot and dry weather. The historical fire regimes in the south west had fires occurring with higher frequency and usually low severity. Fire was historically quite common all across the Southwest and in the Chiricauha’s where flame would sweep from the grasslands up canyon and eventually would reach the Pine forest on top, as it did last year in Pinery Canyon.
Two Tree Ring Studies from the University of Arizona Tree Ring Laboratory show centuries of fire history, one demonstrated from 1700 up to 1866, tree rings in the Chiricahua Range saw fires in these canyons, forest and grasslands burning every four to eight years showing the essential character of fire function to reduce catastropic fire risk and ultimately restored those systems to a more productive, diverse and sustainable ecology.In 30 of the 73 fire years fires began in the grassland and entered the canyon’s burning woody fuels, eventually reaching the Ponderosa Pine forest on the Mountains ridge line (As did the HorseShoe2 fire). Another 500 year tree ring study compared the Chiricahua Range to forests in Mexico where fire suppression is minimal or not nearly as effective as in the United States it showed Mexican forest were more open (fewer small tree and more big ones) plus had a thick grass understory as opposed to U.S. forests which are often stunted with a heavy fuel accumulation and show almost no grass. The longer study showed six major fires between 1685 to 1886 when white settlers began showing up and their cattle began grazing this range. History shows many of these fires could have burn a million acres before burning out like in 1685, 1707, 1765 and 1801 when fires burned broadly during May and June and fire years in 1723, 1789, 1851, 1863 and 1886 heavy fires raked the area between August and September. Strangely from 1801 there was 50 years fire free as opposed to an average fire every 13-31 years earlier in the study. Tree Ring Scientist suggest that flood or debris flows disrupted fire routine when a large flood almost completely scoured vegetation from the canyon middle removing all fuels between the grasslands and the ponderosa pine forest on top. After white man settled the area, heavy grazing and fire management around 1900 began accumulating lots of live and dead fuels over the past 90 years changing this fire ecosystem completely. The result was the HorseShoe2 Fire which instead of improving the forest, it burned it down and will require decades to restore.
LIST OF WORLD’S LARGEST WILDFIRES FROM WIKIPEDIA…CLICK HERE
TREE RING STUDIES: FIRE HISTORY IN THE GALLERY PINE-OAKS FORESTS OF ADJACENT GRASSLANDS OF THE CHIRICAHUA MOUNTAINS OF ARIZONA by Mark Kaib, Christopher Baisan, Heurid Grissino-Maer and Thomas W. Swetnam.
FIRE HISTORY IN A MEXICAN OAK-PINE WOODLAND AND ADJACENT MONTANE CONIFER GALLERY FOREST IN SOUTHEAST ARIZONA by Thomas W. Swetnam, Christopher Baisano, Anthony Caprio and Peter Brown.
A total of 121,000 acres of the Coronado National Forest 250,000-acre Santa Catalina Ranger District burned in just two years. The Bullock fire was out in mid-June 2002, it had raged across 36,000 acres of prime timber and grasslands.Firefighters were able to douse it after a favorable shift of winds and breaks created by Catalina Highway and the Control Road down the north side of the mountains to Oracle. The Aspen Fire burned from June 17, 2003 for about a month on Mount Lemmon. It burned 84,750 acres of land, and destroyed 340 homes and businesses in the town of Summerhaven. Damages to electric lines, phone lines, water facilities, streets and sewers totaled $4.1 million. Firefighting cost was about $17 million, and the Forest Service spent $2.7 million to prevent soil loss. In 2002, the year before the fire started, Congress had requested $2,000,000 to cover the implementation of fire prevention measures in the Coronado National Forest. However, that allocation was reduced to about $150,000 in the Congressional budget process. Dean McAlister, fire management officer for Coronado National Forest, said two years of severe fires in Arizona brought national attention and the realization of the need for better forest management plans across the West. They also brought federal funding to pay for thinning fuels, although Coronado isn’t likely to see additional money since much of it has now burned.
NATIONAL GUARD FIREFIGHTERS DIE WHEN PLANE CRASHES FIGHTING SOUTH DAKOTA BLAZE…..CLICK HERE
SOUTHWEST PHOTOBANK GALLERIES OF A DECADE OF FIRE AFTERMATH IN ARIZONA…..CLICK HERE
WESTERN WILDFIRE RECOVERY: In New Mexico, the Santa Clara Pueblo is seeking volunteers to fill sandbags for fear the American Indian village of 3,100 will be washed away by runoff from mountainsides left denuded by a blaze last year. Read more about Western wildfire recovery likely to take years
UPDATE: Two cousins who pleaded guilty to starting the largest wildfire in Arizona history were sentenced Wednesday to 48 hours in jail and 200 hours of community service. Their still smoldering campfire sparked the Wallow Fire, which ultimately consumed 32 homes, four businesses and more than 30 barns and other buildings during the six weeks it burned out of control in the Apache National Forest last summer.
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