Three large wildfires in Southeast Arizona continue to spread

Above: Map showing three large wildfires in Southeast Arizona, July 2, 2017:  Burro, Frye, and Hilltop fires.

(Originally published at 9:38 a.m. MDT July 3, 2017)

Much of the wildfire activity in the United States over the last several weeks has occurred in Arizona. Currently there are three large fires in the southeast part of the state:

Frye Fire — This 45,000-acre fire is burning on the steep slopes of Mt. Graham in the Pinaleno Mountain Range in a wilderness area southwest of Safford. It is a limited suppression incident.

Burro Fire –Six miles northeast of the outskirts of Tucson. Evacuations are occurring. We have more information about this 14,000-acre fire here.

Hilltop Fire — This 8,600-acre fire 27 miles northeast of Globe has been burning since June 25. It is on the San Carlos Apache Reservation and is threatening timber, cultural resources, recreation areas, and wildlife habitat.

78% of firefighters tested at spike camp on Frye fire had strep throat

Medical Unit
An example of a Medical Unit at a wildfire. In 2012 community members toured the Incident Command Post, including the Medical Unit seen here, at the Springs Fire in Idaho. Inciweb photo.

On June 17 the Incident Management Team (IMT) running the Frye Fire near Safford, Arizona wrote on Inciweb that “21 additional personnel with unknown illness were demobilized.” On June 18 the Tucson News reported that 45 people at the fire had been treated for strep throat, also known as streptococcal pharyngitis.

On June 22 the IMT posted much more information about the “incident within an incident”. A doctor went to the remote Columbine Spike Camp on Mt. Graham where firefighters were staying so they did not have to endure the long round trip each day to the Incident Base. He swabbed the throats of 80 firefighters, with 63 (or 78 percent) testing positive for Streptococcus.

(As of June 24 the Frye Fire has burned over 29,000 acres at Mt. Graham near Safford, Arizona east of Tucson.)

Before and after those shocking test results, the IMT took many actions in order to mitigate the situation.

  • The IMT created an Incident Health Group led by a Medical Unit Leader with the sole function of dealing with the Strep outbreak. (Functional Groups can be quickly created within the Incident Command System to handle specific tasks.  An example of one that is often used is a Structure Protection Group. They may or may not be tied to a specific geographic location.)
  • The Team disinfected pretty much everything in sight.
  • They stopped using the hand-wash station.
  • The caterer was ordered to stop meal production and to dispose of all currently prepared meals. Personnel then were given bottled water and MREs.
  • Symptomatic personnel were isolated, and incoming resources were kept separate from existing personnel.
  • Contracts were issued for a doctor, an RN, and two paramedics to administer testing and provide medication.
  • Treatment with an oral antibiotic for those affected began.
  • The IMT recommended follow-up for the personnel that demobed prior to June 16.
  • When additional personnel presented with symptoms, they were kept isolated from the Incident Command Post population in an isolation/decontamination room where they could get a shower and a change of clothes. They also had access to another isolated room nearby where they could rest and recuperate so as not to expose others while under treatment during contagion.
  • Although the doctor suggested most patients would not be contagious 24 hours after the antibiotic treatment, the IMT decided to extend the period to 48 hours.
  • Graham County Public Health developed an epidemiological investigative process to include interviews and questionnaires with all available parties.

Strep throat affects about 3 million people in the U.S. each year.  With treatment by a medical professional, which often requires lab tests or imaging, it is usually resolved within days or weeks. Common symptoms include sore throat, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Rarely, complications can involve the heart or kidneys. Treatment is important to reduce complications.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Telescopes survive onslaught by Frye Fire

Above: Thanks to efforts by firefighters on the ground and in the air the Frye Fire burned around the Mt. Graham Observatory on June 18, 2017.

(Published at 10:37 a.m. MDT June 19, 2017)

The Frye Fire 8 miles southwest of Safford, Arizona burned up to and around the International Observatory on Mt. Graham Sunday.  The site is the home of several very important telescopes, including the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, the Large Binocular Telescope, & the Submillimeter Telescope.

Saturday afternoon as the fire approached the facility the Incident Management Team ordered 7 large (heavy) air tankers and one very large air tanker. Those firefighters in the air combined with others on the ground prevented any serious destruction of the instruments.

The view from the Mt. Graham Observatory at 10:12 a.m. MDT June 19, 2017, from a webcam at the facility.

Gila Valley Central reported that Eric Buckley, the Director at the Observatory, said, “The fire has come very close. It did come very close to the complex. We may have suffered a little heat damage but no actual fire damage.”

 Mt. Graham Observatory fire
At 9:08 a.m. MDT on Monday fire retardant dropped Sunday afternoon can still be seen by a webcam at the Observatory.

As of 11 p.m. MDT on Sunday the fire had burned almost 10,900 acres, an increase of about 2,000 acres from the day before.

Frye Fire aerial photo
The Frye Fire as seen from an aircraft. It was posted at Inciweb June 18, 2017.

Monday morning the Type 3 Incident Management Team turned the fire over to Alan Sinclair’s Southwest Area Type 2 Team.

The fire is not being fully suppressed, but firefighters are taking action to prevent damage to private land and structures.

The rest of this week the temperature at the lower elevations in the fire area will be over 110 degrees and the relative humidity will be below 10 percent. Monday will be somewhat breezy, but the wind is predicted to exceed 15 mph on Thursday and Friday.

Frye Fire map
Map of the Frye Fire. The white line was the fire perimeter at 11 p.m. MDT June 17, 2017. The red area was the perimeter 24 hours later on June 18.
Frye Fire smoke
Satellite photo showing smoke from the Frye Fire June 19, 2017.

Dozens quarantined with strep throat at the Frye Fire

EMT icon
As we reported earlier Sunday, on Saturday June 17 the Inciweb page for the Frye Fire in southwestern Arizona included this statement:

21 additional personnel with unknown illness were demobilized.

It turns out that the illness was strep throat. According to the Tucson News 45 people at the fire have been treated for the disease, also known as streptococcal pharyngitis.

This is being handled as an “incident within an incident”, with a separate Incident Commander and staff managing the situation, which allows the primary firefighting personnel to continue to perform their usual duties.

Below is an excerpt from the Tucson News, dated June 18:

…A medical group was created with doctors and nurses being brought to the Safford area to help with the strep throat outbreak.

[Information Officer Evan] Burks said antibiotics were administered and the affected fire personnel were quarantined, but will not be sent home.

“We have not released those resources. They’re still here. But we have separated them from the healthy firefighters,” Burks explained. “The antibiotics start working within 24 hours, and it looks like the firefighters are getting healthy pretty quickly here. Once they’re healthy, and good to go, they’ll be back to work [on the Frye Fire].”

Medical personnel have identified those with strep throat and they are taking “extra precautions to wash hands, and stay healthy,” Burks explained. “That’s always the number one priority, to keep our firefighters healthy. But there is always that risk out there.”

If the statement in the June 17 Inciweb report is true, that 21 personnel were released with an unknown illness, possibly strep throat, they could be unknowingly infecting their families or coworkers.

Strep throat affects about 3 million people in the U.S. each year. It is treatable by a medical professional and often requires lab tests or imaging. With treatment it is usually resolved within days or weeks. Common symptoms include sore throat, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Rarely, complications can involve the heart or kidneys. Treatment is important to reduce complications.

As of Saturday night the Frye Fire had burned about 9,000 acres 8 miles southwest of Safford.

More information about the Frye Fire.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Frye Fire threatens international observartory

Above: A 3-D map of the perimeter of the Frye Fire at 11 p.m. MDT June 17, 2017. The base satellite image is from June, 2011 and appears to show in the foreground, east of the fire, a previously burned area.

(Originally published at 8 p.m. MDT June 18, 2017; updated at 11:25 p.m. MDT June 18, 2017.))

The Frye Fire grew close to the Mt. Graham International Observatory 62 miles northeast of Tucson, Arizona Sunday afternoon. The Southwest Geographic Area Coordination Center reported that in mid-afternoon the Type 3 Incident Management Team ordered 7 large (heavy) air tankers and one very large air tanker.

Large Binocular Telescope
Large Binocular Telescope, Mt. Graham.

Photos from the webcam at the observatory showed evidence of retardant drops near the facility, which is the home of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) and other very expensive instruments.

As of Saturday night the fire had burned about 9,000 acres, but by Sunday afternoon we estimate that it has grown by at least another 2,000 acres.

Mt. Graham International Observatory fire
A webcam at the Mt. Graham International Observatory captured this photo at 6:53 p.m. MDT June 18, 2017.

Until late Saturday the fire had been burning mostly uphill on the very steep mountain slope 8 miles southwest of Safford, Arizona, but it has now slopped over onto the west side of the mountain range.

Critically low relative humidity and extreme high temperatures continue to contribute to increased fire activity. On Sunday the temperature was well over 100 at the lower elevations, and it is predicted to reach 110 to 112 each day through Friday June 23. The relative humidity will be 8 to 10 percent. It will be very breezy through Friday except for Wednesday.

photo smoke from the Frye Fire
A satellite photo of smoke from the Frye Fire in southeast Arizona, at 5:45 p.m. MDT, June 18, 2017.

The lightning-caused fire is not being completely suppressed according to the Team:

An indirect strategy is being taken to confine and contain the fire within the previous burn scar, to provide firefighter safety from the numerous snags, rough terrain and numerous downed logs. Fire personnel are assessing values at risk and options to limit high-severity fire effect to forest resources. Firefighters are monitoring fire behavior and growth and will take appropriate action if fire threatens any values.

Firefighting resources assigned to the fire on Saturday included 9 hand crews, 11 engines, 6 helicopters and a total of 306 personnel. Approximately $1.1 million has been spent to manage the fire.

The Team reported on June 17 that “21 additional personnel with unknown illness were demobilized.” UPDATE: 45 people were diagnosed with strep throat at the Frye Fire.