Report: Fuel treatments made two Arizona fires more controlable

Burnout on the Slide Fire
Burnout operation on the Slide Fire. InciWeb photo.

Forest treatments to reduce hazardous fuels made it easier to contain two wildfires in Arizona this year, according to Wally Covington, the director of the Ecological Restoration Institute, and a Regents’ professor of forest ecology at Northern Arizona University. In an op-ed at LiveScience, Mr. Covington said the fires had the conditions, and the chance, to burn hundreds of houses and destroy some of the state’s most coveted recreational tourist attractions, but they didn’t.

He is referring to the 21,000-acre Slide Fire and the 7,000-acre San Juan Fire which started in May and June, respectively. While they still grew into large fires, Mr. Covington said they could have become very damaging megafires, if not for the fuel treatments previously conducted on the Apache-Sitgreaves and Coconino National Forests.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

…The San Juan fire also provided lessons about how treated areas did what they were designed to do: slow a fire’s advance and restore a forest’s natural ability to self-regulate. How a wildfire behaves when it reaches a treatment area is a good test of how those treatments work. Fire crews and incident management teams reported that when the fire burned into areas that had been thinned, it burned with low severity and on the ground, not in treetops. The dry, frequent-fire forests of the West evolved with this type of fire, a slow-moving, low severity surface fire that would remove young trees and revitalize understory grasses and forbs. Anecdotal evidence from the San Juan Fire also suggests that the previously treated areas allowed fire crews to safely conduct burnout operations, thus enabling them to manage and control the fire.

Firefighters on the Slide Fire discover historic site

 cabin site
Firefighter Leo Holley, who discovered the cabin site. USFS photo.

Firefighters from the Coronado National Forest working on the Slide Fire near Sedona, Arizona discovered the almost imperceptible remains of a historic log cabin. Leo Holley made the initial find and he worked with several other firefighters to protect the site from being consumed in the fire, constructing fireline and later placing aluminum fire shelter material over the area.

Mr. Holley first noticed that there were logs laying at right angles and continued to examine clues until he decided it was probably a cabin site.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the LA Times (which has more photos of the firefighters and the site):

“What is remarkable is that archaeological remains of the cabin were almost imperceptible,” [Jeremy Haines, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist] said. “Forest Service archaeologists work … to protect these special places, and Leo’s discovery demonstrates how much we depend on firefighters to help us do this job.”

The cabin probably belonged to someone who was pushing the margins of habitable space because all the prime land is farther south, Haines said.

The cabin was probably destroyed years ago by a wildfire. The cabin was probably no more than 150 square feet. The firefighting crew also found a collapsed mound of rocks, which may have been the chimney.

Cabin site protected from the fire
Cabin site protected from the fire by fire shelter material. USFS photo.

The Slide Fire has burned 21,217 acres and the incident management team is calling it 75 percent contained.

Arizona: heavy response to Slide Fire

(UPDATE at 10 a.m. Arizona time, May 25, 2014)

Slide Fire 12:15 a.m. May 25, 2014.
A 3-D map of the Slide Fire perimeter, at 12:15 a.m. May 25, 2014.

The Slide Fire north of Sedona, Arizona has grown to 13,423 acres as of the latest infrared mapping at 12:15 a.m. Sunday.

Smoke over the fire restricted the use of aircraft to drop water or fire retardant on Saturday, but firefighters continued using burnouts to remove the fuel out ahead of the fire in order to ultimately stop the spread and achieve control.


(UPDATE at 8:10 a.m. Arizona time, May 24, 2014)

Slide Fire 11:30 p.m. AZ time May 23, 2014
Slide Fire perimeter at 11:30 p.m. AZ time May 23, 2014.

The incident management team running the Slide Fire north of Sedona, Arizona is using very large burnout tactics in an attempt to corral the blaze that has grown to over 10,000 acres. Many of the additional acres are a result of the burning operations out ahead of the main fire.

Below is a report from the incident management team Friday night:

The fire burned with lower intensity today across most of the fire, allowing firefighters to make progress. However the fire was very active in the area of Howard Pocket NW of Oak Creek Canyon. Crews conducted successful burnout operations along the “switchbacks” down Highway 89A to the fish hatchery which, will continue tonight. Firefighters, protecting structures in evacuated areas, were able to allow the fire to slowly back downhill to the containment lines behind the structures. This action will provide more security for evacuated homes. Firefighters held fire lines on the SW flank of the fire adjacent to the Secret Mountain Wilderness. On the north and west side of the fire, crews were able to improve lines along FR 535 to the power line and southeast along FR 231, facilitating burnout operations when weather conditions permit.

A burn out operation will be initiated tonight and is part of the overall containment strategy on the NW section of the fire. The idea is to create an area northwest of the main fire that circles the deep canyons, including West Fork of Oak Creek, keeping firefighters out of very hazardous terrain. When burnout operations are completed, it will halt the main fire as it approaches, because of the lack of fuel. Although this strategy will increase the total fire acreage it also lessens impacts to natural resources and provides for the safety of firefighters. These actions are taking place because firefighter and public safety are our number one priority.

Firefighters plan to conduct burnout operations overnight while atmospheric conditions dampen fire intensity.

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