Friday, May 13, 2011

Progress on Horseshoe 2 Fire

[If you've noticed that a couple of my most recent posts have disappeared, it is because Google's blogging platform was compromised, and has been out of commission for about a day. I'm hoping that the missing posts will reappear soon.]

Last night the most obvious (and spectacular) development in the Horseshoe Two fire happened along the south part of the eastern perimeter, where crews burned out land between Owl Butte Road and the oncoming fire. (Local residents who were blanketed in smoke, take heart: there was a bonus in addition to protection. Your road, at least, is now graded!) Results were excellent, and the eastern and northern areas of the fire perimeter are no longer considered dangerous. Today teams will be mopping up there, patrolling and extinguishing hot spots.

Alicia and Tom Davidson, and their mini-horses, live in the back-burned area. They reported a frightening night of fire, but also found the firefighters to be very professional and skilled, to the extent that they were even able to sleep once everything was underway.

A map of the Horseshoe 2 Fire on May 13, showing how it dwarfs and has curled around last year's Horseshoe Fire.

The most active and most worrisome corner continues to be in the southwest: holding it is key to holding the fire, and it is now the number one priority. Part of that corner (upper South Fork) fronts against the 1994 Rattlesnake burn, and a combination of the old burn and high cliffs are holding that edge rather well. But the fire is trying to spread south and west from the old burn, in country that is exceedingly difficult to enter. Today while the wind is calm and air support can be used, the fire team is dropping water there to slow the spread. You can see the critical points on this map.

Detail of fire map on May 13, 2011

Another worry is the finger of fire reaching into upper South Fork (indicated on the map above, "Major effort here too"). A crew hiked into South Fork yesterday to reconnoiter, and today they will anchor a line between two cliffs to attempt to stop that advance.

Along Horseshoe Canyon Road, crews will continue to build fire lines today and to prepare for burning from the road and fire lines, back to the spreading fire, to contain it there at the southern perimeter.

Up in the northwest, fire is slowly backing down into Cave Creek Canyon at Cathedral Rock, but it has not yet reached the point where it can be dealt with directly.

As for the numbers, 14,700 acres are estimated to have burned so far, and containment stands at 15%. 602 people have now come to join the effort. Today in the air attack, two heavy water tankers are on loan from Ft. Huachuca. In addition, 2 light, 2 medium and 3 heavy helicopters are working.

Bill Edwards, USFS District Ranger, addresses the firefighters 
(Photos by Narca)

Bill Edwards, the Douglas District Ranger for the Coronado National Forest, talked to the fire crews at this morning's briefing about the biological value of what they are fighting to save. Initially the focus was on saving homes and the village of Portal, as the greatest threat loomed there. Now that the public is relatively safe, and the fire has entered deeper into the Chiricahuas, the focus has shifted to minimizing the damage that this fire could do to the rich biodiversity. Bill spoke to the firefighters of the biological significance of the Chiricahua Mountains, of the high density of nesting raptors here, of the rare plant and animal communities, "so that you will know what you are fighting for." That biodiversity is also a primary economic base for communities in southeast Arizona.

Fire is a natural element in the local ecology. What isn't natural is the frequency of unseasonal, human-caused, catastrophic fire we've been experiencing. I've been researching fire ecology and adaptations to fire, and want to get into that in a later post. But for now, one tidbit of information lightens my heart: Arizona Madrone is indeed fire-adapted. Many of the burned madrone trees should root-sprout after fire. So although we may have lost some magnificent old-growth madrones when the north face of Portal Peak (behind my home) burned a few days ago, at least some of them should survive. It may be a few years before they bear berries again, but eventually Portal Peak will once more have food in the autumn for trogons and Eared Quetzals. (It was here that we found the only Eared Quetzal to be recorded so far on a US Christmas Bird Count, back in the winter of 1999-2000.)


  1. Nice balanced reporting. Flew late yesterday afternoon on the east side of the valley north of Rodeo and the overall the Chiricahua Mountains look pretty good.

  2. I'm so glad that I found your blog and thank you for keeping us updated on the fire. My in-laws [Joan and Chuck Jensen] are your neighbors [and Post Mistress!] It is such a beautiful area - thank you for giving us this daily view of things.

  3. Narca, I just want to thank YOU for your calm, detailed, and visually informative posts. Another Portalite and I commented today that you're the information source we rely on the most.

    So, many thanks from Whitetail Canyon -- and beyond!