The 2014 fire season flared into action this weekend, with a 175-acre blaze near Flagstaff underscoring the danger posed by the return of the drought.
Crews had the fire 75 percent contained on Monday afternoon as they headed into the mop-up stages, despite difficult weather conditions.
Northeasterly winds gusted to 30 miles an hour with temperatures in the 50s and relatively low humidity at around 8 to 13 percent. The Forest Service said the fire was human caused, but continues to investigate.
The mild winter and the bone-dry spring have left fuels already dangerously dry.
The early start of the fire season has
alarmed firefighters throughout the state.
Northern Gila County remains in “moderate drought” with the southern half of the county in “severe” drought, according to the National Weather Service.
Just south and east of Gila County the failure of winter and spring rains have produced “extreme drought.”
Arizona’s still much better off than California and Nevada, much of which have slipped into either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. On the other hand, that means California may soon draw in most of the firefighting resources of the federal government — leaving Arizona more exposed.
The Salt River Project’s daily water report hints at the worrisome lack of moisture in the region in a month that normally produces two or three inches of rain in Payson and when the runoff from
snowmelt on the headwaters of the Salt, Gila and Verde rivers normally peaks.
Roosevelt Lake has risen a little with the runoff, rising from 48 percent full a couple of weeks ago to about 50 percent now. But the Salt River as it enters Roosevelt normally carries 1,430 cubic feet per second at this time of the year. But yesterday it carried just 164 cubic feet per second — about 11 percent of normal.
The Verde River at Tangle normally carries 236 cubic feet per second, but yesterday stood at 148 csf — about 64 percent of normal.
But Tonto Creek at Roosevelt has just about dried up. Normally it would carry 55 csf, but yesterday managed just 6 csf — about 13 percent of normal.
Fortunately, despite the dry conditions fire crews managed to contain the Fisher Fire near Flagstaff.
Forest Service officials warned people to stay away from the fire due to concerns with steep terrain, rolling rocks, and snags. Fortunately, none of the firefighters have reported injuries fighting in those arduous conditions.
Red Flag warnings remain in place across much of Northern Arizona, with strong winds and low humidity, compounding the unseasonable dryness of the forest fuels.
On Monday, firefighters continued to mop up hot spots deeper into the perimeter of the fire.
The Forest Service put out notices to remind visitors to check on closures and camping restrictions before they plan a visit. Anyone camping needs a shovel and enough water to put a fire dead out. Any fire not cold to the touch when you leave it can always start up again, triggering a tragedy.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Weather Service predicts strong, gusty winds and even scattered thunderstorms will keep the fire danger high for the next few days. The strongest winds will come south of the Mogollon Rim, with humidity of just 8-15 percent. The weather front will chill Rim Country — and bring a chance of storms that produce lightning but no rain in the high country — a firefighter’s nightmare.
The dry cold front will set in on Wednesday and by Friday bring at least a small chance of localized showers.
Started April 11
175 acres on Monday
75 percent contained
Located near Fisher Point in Walnut Canyon, five miles SE of Flagstaff
7 Hotshot crews, 3 Type Two crews, 2 dozers, 5 water tenders, 1 lead plane, 1 Air Attack, 1Type 1 and 1 Type 3 helicopter, 10 engines, and numerous fire personnel.
Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service