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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Frye Canyon burned in the Nuttall Fire four years ago. Frye Mesa Reservoir, located within the watershed of the burn zone, is doing just fine.