Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Better Scenario

At tonight's public meeting, those gathered received a realistic appraisal of the current state of the Horseshoe Two fire, with an emphasis on how it can work if everything goes right.

As I said in an earlier post, the term "burn-out" is scary. And a burn-out is planned for South Fork and a portion of Cave Creek Canyon, as far down the canyon's north-facing slope as the main road. However, it is not a question of lighting a new fire that will rush upslope to meet the one now burning down. The Type 1 team's full skill is being directed at controlling the intensity of the fire and setting up checkpoints where the possibility exists to limit its spread.

Here is how that strategy is being applied in South Fork: the crews first laid down retardant where they wanted to limit the fire's spread, and then lit a fire along the unburned ridge above South Fork, opposite the burned slope. The newly set fire then burned slowly downhill and met the upcoming fire. After a day or two of applying this strategy, a mostly beneficial burn is being achieved in upper South Fork. We don't yet know the final outcome, but so far the plan is working in that spot.

South Fork is being burned out, but every attempt is being made to keep the burn at as low an intensity as possible.

Smoke from South Fork at sunset, May 15
(Photo by Narca)

The next step being prepared is aimed at checking the fire at the research station in Cave Creek Canyon. Lines are being laid, but it is too soon to light a backfire there just yet. First the fire burning towards Cave Creek has to get close enough that the backfire doesn't cause more problems than it solves when it is lit. So at the moment teams are waiting in that region until they judge the balance to be just right for meeting the oncoming fire. The backfiring could happen as soon as tomorrow, depending on developments.

The teams are under pressure to accomplish as much as possible before the next bouts of strong wind arrive. We've gained a little purchase here: the high winds originally predicted for Monday are now expected on Wednesday, so we've been gifted two extra days before the wind could again gust to 45 mph.

That is a quick update. I plan to attend tomorrow morning's briefing to the fire crews as well, and will photograph the most recent fire map for you.

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