Thursday, June 16, 2011


During disaster, people come together. We connect more deeply with each other. And the disastrous big fires raging in Arizona are no exception. Our friends are invaluable, as we stand together and nurture each other during crisis.

From my farflung net of friends come a couple of offerings for today's post. Brad Tatham happened to be flying over the Chiricahua Mountains on June 14 and snapped these photos out the airplane window. On this day, the smoke columns were rising from a burnout in Rucker Canyon and from Chiricahua National Monument (a column that was visible all the way to Kolb Road in Tucson). Forest between the major smoke columns has already burned.

Horseshoe Two Fire in Chiricahua Mountains, June 14, 2011
(Photos by Brad Tatham)

Yesterday I was hearing from friends caught up in the fast-growing Monument Fire in the Huachuca Mountains in Sierra Vista. Getting real news of that fire from official sources has been extremely difficult. Even the site failed to list it for many days. (I've been wondering if that was because the Type 1 fire team called to the job had its hands so full, and because the scene was so chaotic as people dealt with the Ash Canyon firestorm, that at first accurate information couldn't be condensed to the standard digests usually posted on inciweb.)

Several friends, refugees from Ash Canyon, were gathering at Casa de San Pedro B&B in Hereford, a truly lovely place where we often settle with our tour groups. Peg Abbott (with the help of Bob Rodrigues) decided to pitch in with a nice meal for our friends (and friends of friends) who found shelter at the B&B after evacuating their homes, so Alan and I grabbed a few treats from Trader Joe's, and drove into Sierra Vista in late afternoon to join them.

As the Huachuca Mountains loomed larger, we could see the Monument Fire burning at the crest of Miller Peak, and then heading down the east slope of the peak––even though it was moving into the wind. Conditions are so dry in the mountain ranges of southeast Arizona that fire is behaving in ways rarely seen, including following fuels into the wind. That has been happening in the Chiricahuas, and now we see it happening in the Huachucas as well.

Descriptions of the firestorm that hit Ash Canyon sound like another example of a huge column (20,000 ft+) of superheated air, fire and smoke collapsing on itself, as started to happen in Whitetail Canyon in the Chiricahuas. Now word is slowly trickling out about the aftermath of that firestorm. It appears that at least 40 homes were badly damaged or destroyed. Part of the problem of assessing the situation is that going in there is still dangerous. Meanwhile homeowners live with acutely uncomfortable anxiety, as they wait for word of the outcome. So far it appears that Bob Behrstock, Karen LeMay and Ted Mouras have homes to return to. However, hot spots are still flaring, and it is too soon to be certain of anything.

The latest statistics for the Monument Fire: size is 9,300 acres; 17% containment. For Horseshoe Two: size is 184,198 acres; 60% containment.

And today? The wind continues to blow, creating red flag conditions. The Monument Fire continues to spread in the high country of the Huachuca Mountains and to force evacuations, and in the Chiricahuas, the fire crews continue to  attempt to moderate the intensity of Horseshoe Two Fire and to contain it within a backburned perimeter. Due to extradordinary conditions, these aren't normal fires.

But last night? Last night was a very welcome respite from the tension of dealing with disaster. Thank you, Peg! Thank you, Karl and Patrick. It was an excellent evening.

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