You know you have been around intense fire way too much when you arrive in the gracious Deep South, and see the stately magnolias, and dogwood, and flowering crepe myrtle, and all you really see is ladder fuel. The wide expanses of lawn, however, are cropped so short by foraging lawnmowers that they would never carry a ground fire.
A new Type 1 fire team has rotated in, our third, so we are now in the fifth week of the Horseshoe Two Fire. The new team is headed by Jim Thomas and is based in the Great Basin. They are taking on a fire that has burned 100,200 acres and is only 55% contained. They are entering a community that has been under great stress for a month, after repeated evacuations, and which is stricken by the grievous loss in recent days of a number of our most treasured places, as the fire broke through containment lines and ravished the high country.
Yesterday the fire burned through Methodist Camp, which hosted a symposium on the Sky Islands in 1992. (Our memories are embedded in the landscape.) The structures were saved. Flames were still a couple of miles from Whitetail Canyon when the last fire update was posted.
Some of my friends are upset by the amount of backburning which firefighters have used to try to gain control of this marauding, volatile fire. It is true that the strategy carries risk, and that in some fires, and in less experienced hands, it has done more harm than good. However, in the case of the Horseshoe Two Fire and the extreme conditions we are dealing with, I don't see that there was another real option. In the hands of the Type 1 teams, the backfiring has gone remarkably well. I never believed they could hold the backburns in the howling winds, yet time after time they managed to moderate the fire's intensity and to stop it along a great length of the perimeter.
I would encourage anyone feeling anger at the fire's damage to go to the early morning briefings for the fire teams. You will be listening rather than questioning, but you will gain a more grounded sense of what the crews are facing, and how the strategies are being applied, than you will at the meetings held for the community (although those also can be valuable).