Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Occam Trolls the Web

A while ago I added Carole's MS blog to my links. She's a Canadian woman dealing with a neurological pathology. Her writing makes you feel like you've been listening to your dear sister. And we become better, more compassionate people for it.

Another new blog is by Jiwan about his country Nepal. Jaw dropping photos and particulars right from the source can be seen on Nepal--Shangri-La.

I often troll about the web, looking for those individuals with unique things to teach us. So pop in to see my new friends. But please come back to the Double Barrel Ranch. You never know what I have up my sleeve for the next post.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mother Nature Ends Fire

The fire wrapped itself up on May 23 because of the wet weather. A rare cold, wet system moved across Arizona dropping temperatures to near historic lows. Snow fell in the mountains, including Mt Graham. Snow fell just above the fire line, and over an inch of rain fell on the fire area itself. Occam has lived here 20 years and she has never seen snow in May, especially late May. She quipped to someone: Global Warming? But she read in the paper this morning that lately temperatures are actually running cooler than normal all across the country. Maybe the world. Does this mean that we are warming in reverse? What? Today the visible snow melted off the peak in the warming breezes. The dirt road portion of Swift Trail, as the mountain road is called, was never reopened after the fire because of the snow. Perhaps it will open tomorrow, now that the Holiday Weekend is finished. Our thanks go to the firefighters who did the best they could in the very difficult terrain of the Frye Mesa fire. Officially they are calling it 3100 acres burned. I'm sure they are at another fire somewhere now, maybe California. Our disaster has been averted, other areas are less fortunate.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Frye Mesa Wildfire, Day Three

Benefiting the fighting of the Frye Mesa Wildfire, the weather has turned remarkably cold and wet, and winds have decreased. This is a huge relief for the 321 personnel on site here in Graham County to aid in containing this combustion and a relief for anyone else who loves our Mountain. Evacuation of all the private cabins, public campgrounds and picnic areas was completed today. This situation has likely spoiled many a plan for the approaching big holiday weekend. Although they predict full containment by Sunday the 25th of May, it hard to say when recreation will be permitted to resume on Mt. Graham.

According to the Incident website, the fire sits at 3500 acres tonight. It is directly 5 miles west of me as the raven flies. There are no visible flames at this time. I'm unsure how much rain has fallen over there but we only got a wee bit. The temperatures have plummeted though. It is 49°F (9°C) at 11:30 PM. Incredibly chilly for late May. After all, it was 106° (41°C) just 2 days ago.

"Anonymous" has commented yesterday that the Frye Mesa Dam is "just fine". That is a relief. By analyzing the map, it looks as if the fire did burn mostly to the east, from Frye Canyon to Deadman Canyon. Both areas were burned in the 2004 Nuttal Fire also. Possibly the lack of taller, "higher story" fuels was an aid to holding this fire to the lower elevations. The higher story fuels being previously consumed by the 2004 conflagration.

According to the official sources, the fire began as a spot fire at 1:00 PM, that took off so fast in the high winds that by 1:15 PM they declared it out-of-control. Think of that the next time you are in a wildland setting and are a little careless with your campfire or smoking materials. Those prescribed burn folks were the "experts" and they could not control a spark, you'd have a much smaller chance and could possibly trap yourself or your loved ones. Nobody is beyond learning from this event, professional or casual tourist in the natural world. Fire is friend or foe. Do all you can to ensure it remains our servant.

Photos by David Peters, Bureau of Land Management.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Frye Mesa Wildfire, Day Two

Frye Mesa Wildfire. I stand corrected. It was human caused like 88% of all "forest" fires. (The May 2000 Cerro Grande fire, New Mexico, also started as a prescribed burn. It damaged the Los Alamos National Laboratories.) So sadly, the rumor has been confirmed: a prescribed burn got away from the Forest Service.

You know it is fire season in Arizona if the first thing one hears early in the morning is the sound of helicopters taking fire retardant to a wildfire. At 10:30 AM today it was listed at 1000 acres burned.

Due to the sustained winds, it has vigorously burned in an easterly direction all day. Helicopters and air tankers have been grounded since mid-morning due to the winds. Gusts of 55 MPH have been recorded here today. The incident supervisors are securing local equipment and supplies for a prolonged battle. The fire laid low this morning but after the wind came, smoke rose high all day. Tonight the smell of wood burning, so welcome under the happy occasion of a campfire, is a constant reminder of the loss and devastation just a few miles to the west of me.

The ultimate culprit of the fire is a noxious weed called Sweet Resinbush that infects Frye Mesa. Various herbicides were tried to eradicate it. Most failed to work optimally due to the weather being dry, or they caused damage to such native species as Barrel Cactus or Prickly Pear Cactus. It was introduced as an erosion control plant some years ago. Instead, it became a monoculture, crowding out the natives and ironically leaving the land even more susceptible to erosion. "The best laid plans of men." In addition, cattle and wildlife would not eat it. How could this error be rectified? Burn it. Unfortunately, somebody authorized the burn on a day that a Red Flag Warning was issued. The Red Flag indicates critical fire weather conditons exist because of high wind, low humidity and warm temperatures. Danger indeed.

Mt. Graham has a 7000 foot drop in 7 miles, a dramatic change that paints a clear picture of the steep terrain. The fire is burning up and down various canyons now, perpendicular to the slope up toward the crown jewel, the lovely highest elevations so carefully tended by man. That is the good news for now but the progress depends so much on the weather, and the skill of the fire fighters.

I keep wondering what has happened to the Frye Mesa Dam. A 107 foot concrete arch dam built 79 years ago, the small reservoir is stocked with trout in the winter months for anglers. At 4639 feet (1413 m.) in elevation, the sparkling waters are likely spoiled for many years, perhaps permanently. Run off after a burn is boosted for 3 to 5 years. Blackened soil, rocks, wood debris all flow freely from steep burned slopes. The spillway is sure to be under tremendous pressure. I imagine the whole existence of the reservoir and dam is threatened.

I'm trying to not imagine the horror in those canyons and ridges. Animals fleeing. Scenic glades ravaged. The orange glow and sparks are clearly seen from here. It is altogether unhappy. Rain, come soon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Frye Mesa Fire, Day One

At first I thought it was a rain cloud on the mountain.

Then my better half spoke up and asked if I had seen the smoke. Smoke? It wasn't a weird rain cloud after all. Yellowish smoke was billowing off of Frye Mesa thousands of feet into the sky and obscuring the sun overhead. The temperature started to drop due to the shade. Frye Mesa is the site of a small dam and water collection area for the city of Safford, Arizona water utility. The city gets water from several sources but Frye Mesa has been contributing fresh mountain water for decades.

After nightfall the extent of this brand new fire, being driven by gusty winds, is quite terrifying. I estimate it has climbed up Frye Canyon or Ash Creek Canyon several miles. The sickly orange glow outlines it's destructive path.

Frye Canyon ends near the summit of Mt. Graham (above 10,700 feet elevation) at the multi-million dollar, world famous telescopes. Recently the newspaper USA Today characterized the Large Binocular Telescope there as superior to the Hubble; therefore, the best in the world today. Ash Creek Canyon ends at 9500 feet elevation at the Columbine Work Center of the US Forest Service. Also located there are dozens of summer cabins, a Forest Service visitors center, a summer camp, and a spruce-shaded campground I enjoy a lot. Obviously there is much at stake with this fire.

I have no idea yet on the source of the ignition. A rumor says it was a prescribed burn but a check of authorized burns does not verify this. Frye Mesa is home of an invasive weed that I know the forest service has been trying hard to eradicate, but I hardly think they would have been out there setting fires when there was a Red Flag Warning today with local wind gust of up to 55 miles per hour forecast.

I will up-date here as more information becomes available. In the meantime I have a front row seat to the terrorism of fire on a dry southeastern Arizona mountain forest.