Weeks after the last flames were quenched, the 123,900-acre Woodbury Fire in the Superstition Mountains still worries officials.
More than half of the Woodbury Fire burned hot enough to create hydrophobic soil conditions, limiting the soil’s ability to absorb water. This raises the risk for flash flooding and debris flows.
Debris flows of ash, sand, silt, rocks and burned vegetation can damage or destroy culverts, bridges, roadways, and buildings miles away from the burned area. A debris flow after the Highline Fire several years ago killed eight people at the Water Wheel recreation area.
“Naturally occurring weather can cause additional damage and destruction in areas surrounding a burn scar before trees and vegetation grow back to normal,” said John Scaggs, public affairs specialist with the Tonto National Forest.
Thunderstorms can produce flash flooding before officials can put out a warning, especially on steep slopes after a heavy rain.
The Forest Service Burn Area Emergency Response process seeks to protect forest visitors, critical natural and cultural resources, water quality, Forest Service lands and staff from further damage.
Each week of the monsoon, the BAER teams across the area partner with the National Weather Service to send out weather reports.
“The BAER hydrologists will meet with NOAA as needed to continue this collaboration,” said Scaggs.
So far, the Forest Service has closed a large area within the Woodbury burn scar, including Burnt Corral, Crabtree Wash, Davis Wash, Lower Burnt Corral Shoreline Area, Three-Mile Wash, and the Upper Burnt Corral Shoreline Area.
Also included in the closure area — 30 miles of the Arizona Trail.
That portion of the AZT will “remain closed through the 2019 monsoon season,” said Scaggs.
The Forest Service will reassess whether to reopen the AZT after the monsoon ends.
The 800-mile-long AZT runs through Rim Country from Roosevelt Lake to Happy Jack. It’s a busy trail. The AZT Association estimates about 450 through hikers complete the trail each year with 65 percent traveling northbound in the spring and the rest traveling southbound in the fall.
The closed area runs through the Superstitions south of Roosevelt Lake.
The AZT Association isn’t taking any chances, however. Executive Director Matthew Nelson said, “There is currently no detour around the fire closure, and long-distance (southbound) hikers should be prepared to arrange a ride from Roosevelt to the town of Superior to avoid the closure area.”
Check with the AZT Association for more updates, aztrail.org.