Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Suppression in South Fork

Yesterday the Horseshoe Fire was inordinately well-behaved: I saw no smoke! The fire crews report that the fire continues to back into the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon in the vicinity of the trailhead, although you can see by comparing today's fire map with yesterday's that the spread was not pronounced.

A crew did manage to put in a fire line and an escape route in the vicinity of D8 (see green arrow on map), and will work more in that area today. The fire line is being constructed through manzanita and sparse pinyon-juniper habitat. A blackened safety zone was created yesterday.

Efforts to pinch off the fire have been going well. Helicopters continue to drone overhead, carrying water and retardant to aid on-the-ground suppression efforts. The fire has finally moved downslope far enough that the terrain allows firefighters to work on the ground in this one region near the South Fork trailhead.

Green arrow points to region of today's suppression efforts. 
Next to the arrow, you can see the black chain indicating the new fire line, built yesterday.

Today, the firefighters again expect active ground fire with moderate upslope runs. It should continue to spread by backing downslope and flanking, then by burning upslope through the preheated canopy. Unless it is checked to the west at the fireline, the flames are expected to advance about a quarter-mile toward the creek bottom.

The incoming Public Information Officer, Jon Kohn, reiterated something that's very worth remembering: wherever the fire is burning through fire-adapted habitat, the endemic animals are also fire-adapted. When I went into the fresh burn above Maple Camp during the trogon census, I saw several Yarrow's Spiny Lizards and Striped Plateau Lizards running about the burnt ground, their normal patterning dulled by a coating of ash, but very much alive. Likewise, a number of birds like Buff-breasted Flycatchers seem to depend on regenerated habitat after a burn. We could also see some wildflowers after the rains which need the heat of fire to break their seeds' dormancy, and which are rare to absent at other times.

A cold Yarrow's Spiny Lizard (Photo by Narca)

A big concern has been keeping a high-intensity fire out of the old growth riparian habitat of South Fork, and so far that effort has been quite successful.

Today's fire briefing was crowded with incoming and outgoing fire teams. Brad McBratney, outgoing Incident Commander, and members of his team wished to pass their thanks to the Portal-Rodeo community, saying again how much they've enjoyed working here. Wayne Cook is the incoming Incident Commander. The two fire teams share the same approach of using patient long-term monitoring and control strategies, and the two have obviously worked together over many years––old friends were catching up with each other.

The rains reached Columbus, New Mexico, last night! And here in the Chiricahuas, the spectacular sunset was caused by clouds, not smoke. Sharma Hutchinson reported seeing lightning last night as she returned from dinner. Many folks in our area know the long wait, through drought, for rain––days and nights when it seems that rain is all we wish for. A fire intensifies that longing, and now a hint of relief is in the air.

Sunset over the Peloncillo Mountains
(Photo by Narca)

Watch for tarantulas! As humidity rises immediately before the monsoon, the male tarantulas emerge in search of females. When I start seeing tarantulas, it nearly always means that a good rain is only one to three days away!

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