On The Lookout For Wildfires

Crews contain fires, but risk ‘very high’

The 21,000-acre Slide Fire in Sedona continues to smolder and flare, but fire crews’ desperate efforts to use backfires and firebreaks to keep the blaze from spreading north toward Flagstaff appear to have succeeded.

The 21,000-acre Slide Fire in Sedona continues to smolder and flare, but fire crews’ desperate efforts to use backfires and firebreaks to keep the blaze from spreading north toward Flagstaff appear to have succeeded.

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Coping with a drought of historic proportions, Arizona staggered through another high-risk weekend with fires burning across the state — but no longer threatening to escape control.

The 21,000-acre Slide Fire in Sedona continues to smolder and flare, but fire crews’ desperate efforts to use backfires and firebreaks to keep the blaze from spreading north toward Flagstaff appear to have succeeded.

About 200 firefighters continue to monitor the fire and put out embers and sparks that spread beyond the established boundaries. Crews did call in helicopter drops when a flare-up threatened to move toward the plush Juni­pine Resort. The fire remained mostly confined to the steep canyons on the west side of Oak Creek, one of the most popular tourist areas in the state.

In fact, the Forest Service has dispatched its Burned Area Emergency Response teams to figure out what to do once the fire dies out to protect Oak Creek, homes, roads and archaeological sites from the after-effects of the fire, including erosion and mud slides.

Several years ago, the Schultz Fire near Flagstaff denuded a large area right before the onset of the summer monsoons. The heavy storms that followed caused floods and mudslides that actually did more damage to homes and property than the fire itself.

The lightning-caused Galahad Fire has grown to about 2,000 acres on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon since it started on May 23, but didn’t grow much over the weekend.

About 150 firefighters continued to work to contain the fire, which is burning in an area that has burned within the last 15 years. That’s actually an ideal condition, despite the dry spring and rising temperatures. The ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona are a fire-adapted system, evolved to remain healthy with low-intensity ground fires every five or 10 years. Fire poses a far more serious threat in areas that haven’t burned in decades, thanks to a loss of grass to carry the fire and an all-out effort to stop fires quickly for the past century.

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Forest Service fire crews supervise a back burn used to help contain the 2,000-acre Galahad Fire on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Because the fire moved into an area burned 15 years ago, firefighters managed it to actually improve forest health.

The Grand Canyon National Park actually has some of the last, intact, old-growth forests in Arizona, partly because the park limited logging and grazing and shifted to a policy of letting fires burn when possible much sooner than the Forest Service.

The crews working the Galahad Fire are therefore focusing on protecting archaeological sites and keeping the fire from crossing over the W-4 road into areas with much greater fuel buildups.

The fire has cut off access to Point Sublime, one of the most sweeping views on the North Rim. However, fire managers say the fire will ultimately help maintain forest health by consuming downed wood and saplings that have accumulated in the last 15 years.

Meanwhile, crews now have the lightning-caused, 52,000-acre Skunk Fire 77 percent contained about 27 miles east of San Carlos. The fire continues to burn with “moderate intensity” in a mix of grass, oak, brush, juniper and pinyon pine. The 66 firefighters monitoring the fire continue to set backfires to complete the fire line and keep the fire contained in a roughly 10-square-mile area.

FIRE DANGER RATINGS

A host of variables are evaluated by land management experts to determine wildfire danger. Information in Smokey’s Domain is provided to help you understand those variables.

Payson Ranger District Fire Danger Rating on: 5-27-2014 was: Very High

When you see a fire danger rating sign, what do the ratings actually mean?

LOW

Fuels do not ignite readily from small firebrands although a more intense heat source, such as lightning, may start fires in duff or dry, decayed (punky) wood. Weather and fuel conditions will lead to slow fire spread, low intensity, and relatively easy control with light mop-up. There is little danger of spotting. Controlled burns can usually be executed with reasonable safety.

MODERATE

Fires can start from most accidental causes, but with the exception of lightning fires in some areas, the number of starts is generally low. Expect moderate flame length and rate of spread. Short distance spotting may occur, but is not persistent. Fires are not likely to become serious and control is relatively easy. Although controlled burning can be done, without creating a hazard, routine caution should be taken.

HIGH

All fine dead fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from most causes. Unattended brush and camp fires are likely to escape. Fires spread rapidly and short-distance spotting is common. Fires may become serious and their control difficult unless they are attacked successfully while small. Outdoor burning (if permitted) should be restricted to early morning and late evening hours.

VERY HIGH

Fires start easily from all causes and, immediately after ignition, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity. Spot fires are a constant danger. Fires burning in light fuels may quickly develop high intensity characteristics such as long-distance spotting and fire whirlwinds when they burn in heavier fuels. Both suppression and mop-up will require an extended and very thorough effort. Outdoor burning is not recommended. Fire restrictions may be in effect.

EXTREME

Fires start quickly, spread furiously, and burn intensely. All fires are potentially serious. Development into high intensity burning will usually be faster and occur from smaller fires than in the very high fire danger class. Every fire start has the potential to become large. Expect extreme, erratic behavior. NO OUTDOOR BURNING SHOULD TAKE PLACE IN AREAS WITH EXTREME FIRE DANGER. Fire restrictions are generally in effect.

Energy Release Components (ERC): 93

The Energy Release Component (ERC) is a National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) index related to how hot a fire could burn. It is directly related to the 24-hour, potential worst case scenario, total available energy (BTUs) per unit area (in square feet) within the flaming front at the head of a fire. The higher the ERC, the higher the potential fire danger. ERCs indicate the percentage of time when conditions hit this threshold of fire danger based on weather data gathered since 1995 to now. Example: ERCs reaching a 97 percentile would mean that fire danger has only reached this threshold of critical fire danger three percent of the time since 1995.

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