Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wind Coming to the Horseshoe Fire

At tonight's community meeting, the Type 1 fire team led by Dugger Hughes passed the torch to Roy Hall's team, which specializes in the patient monitoring of longer-term fires. Dugger joined Buck Wickham, District Ranger Bill Edwards, and others in updating the community and in fielding questions about the Horseshoe Fire, which has been burning in the Chiricahua Wilderness for more than two weeks.

For a quick summary, two main active fronts continue to burn, in the southwest corner where fire backed downhill into brush, and in the northeast corner where a long finger of fire spread uphill into timber and brush, producing some large columns of smoke. Today the fire was more active than it has been in recent days. Thus far about 2375 acres have burned. The fire line has still held at the South Fork riparian corridor, and is not yet burning on the opposite (north) wall of that canyon. So far, areas around known Spotted Owl nests have either not burned, or burned at a low intensity.

South Fork (Photo by Narca)

I don't have an updated fire map to post for you, but will try to find one in the next couple of days.

Dinah asked how much of the canopy has been burned within the active zone and was given an estimate of 20%, indicating thus far a low-intensity burn overall, with many of the trees expected to survive. Bill Edwards noted that the north-facing slopes are still moist and resisting the flames. Southern exposures, however, are starting to dry out and the fire could heat up there in particular.

The next two or three days may prove more challenging, since sustained winds of 20-30 mph from the west and southwest are predicted––the first such sustained winds since the fire was ignited.

South Fork Canyon could become very hazardous if the wind drives the fire through there, so the road isn't likely to open anytime soon, and a decision about holding the annual census of Elegant Trogons will have to be made at the last minute. Likewise, the Herb Martyr Road and the road from Rustler Park to Long Park are both still closed, because fire could easily run into either of those areas. The main Cave Creek Canyon road is open, all the way to Rustler Park.

Official updates estimate the fire as 25% contained: Dugger arrived at that figure by studying the fire perimeter and calculating how much of it is now "black-lined" and therefore the fire is unlikely to break out again at those points. The containment date of June 15 will probably be pushed forward by as much as a month, to mid-July. Only the summer rains will douse this fire.

Delane sent her love to "the boys of the Dalton gang" who wave at her every day when she goes out for her evening walk. They are a Hot Shot crew from southern California. As fire preparations are completed and fire personnel continue to be diverted to other fires, the "Dalton gang" is leaving. From a high of nineteen Hot Shot teams, four are currently working the Horseshoe Fire. That number will be pared down further to two Hot Shot crews. However, if danger from the fire suddenly intensifies, we are assured that more teams can very quickly be returned to the Chiricahuas.

Dugger, in closing, reiterated what other members of the fire team have told us, saying that Portal-Rodeo is "the best community I've worked with in a very long time." PortaleƱos remain deeply appreciative and very impressed by the professional, efficient, competent work of "our" firefighters. We've been treated to a close-up look at how an emergency team can function when they really have their act together, and we welcome Roy Hall and his monitoring team to the continuing saga.

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