Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"It's Kinda Nice To Win One"

Tonight fewer lights gleam on the horizon at the Fire City next to the Chiricahua Desert Museum, north of Rodeo. The nomads are pulling up stakes, some to head home, some to relocate in Willcox for the next stage of the fire work.

Horseshoe Two Fire map on 22 June 2011

Just look at that fire perimeter––they are still saying 95% containment, but it looks a lot like 100% to me!  That lovely black line means that the Horseshoe Two Fire isn't going anywhere, but it doesn't mean that it is 100% out. 

District Ranger Bill Edwards noted at last night's community meeting that the fire won't be out until the rains come––hotspots are still burning within the perimeter––and the current closure of Coronado National Forest won't be lifted until the Forest has received a soaking of at least 1/2" of rain, Forest-wide. Although many of us are impatient to see the mountains for ourselves, the continuing closure is wise, both in the interest of public safety in the burnt areas and for some degree of prevention of more human-caused fires in the unburned areas. The record dryness of fuels is still unprecedented. 

Today the fire crews planned to make "significant progress" with mopping up hotspots and rehabilitating the effects of suppression. Bulldozer work on the Whitetail road is nearly finished. BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) crews were working today in the southern region of the fire, and other crews were being flown into the interior to assess the severity of the fire there. 

A last early morning briefing at Fire City (Photo by Narca)

In the more recently active MM Division, mop-up is continuing before rehabbing can start. 

In Chiricahua National Monument, hazardous trees are being removed. The southeast corner of the Monument burned at the highest intensity. Much of the rest of the Monument received a low-to-moderate burn. The prescribed burns that had been conducted in the Monument in recent years were an important factor in moderating the burn there.  

Today was a busy day for air operations, as they repositioned to Willcox, along with the Type 2 team which assumes command tomorrow morning. The fire city at Chiricahua Desert Museum north of Rodeo was being dismantled today, and the bulk of the teams is moving on.

Ranger Bill reviewed the work of our departing fire team led by Jim Thomas, the third Type 1 team to work on Horseshoe Two during the first 7 weeks of its duration. On arrival, they inherited a high-intensity blow-out which charred treasured regions of the Chiricahuas, including Rustler Park, Barfoot Park and lookout, and Onion Saddle. When they arrived, the fire was racing north, menacing Whitetail Canyon, Pinery Canyon, Chiricahua National Monument--all of the northern region of the Chiricahua Mountains. High winds generated firestorms in places like Whitetail Canyon.  Yet in spite of serious challenges, we are told that overall the fire team maintained a low-to-moderate intensity burn by using techniques like firing ridges in the evening, so that fire would back more slowly downhill into canyons, to meet the oncoming body of the fire. Without that active management, a far higher percentage of this range would have burned at high intensity. So the Type 1 fire teams managed to moderate a very, very bad situation. We were told last night that many of the "old fire dogs" had never seen conditions this extreme. 

Not only is the Portal-Rodeo community grateful for the firefighters' work, we are also glad that it happened without any serious injuries. Their safety record received high praise: during 169,000 work hours (so far) in difficult terrain, there were only 8 minor injuries. 

As a post script, I should say that fire danger continues in any unburned areas of our communities, even given the Forest closure. We still have lightning storms on the horizon, and groups of illegal entrants are still being seen about every other day, according to Bill Edwards. 

Just yesterday our next-door neighbors found a brand new campfire in the oaks next to our home, obviously built by illegals. Their fires are easy to identify by the nature of the trash left behind--the labels in Spanish on empty tin cans, the burlap used by drug runners to carry loads of marijuana, the ragged discarded blankets. (Now... about that program for allowing workers to enter legally, thereby eliminating at least one big part of the problem....)


  1. I agree with the assessment of the fire fighters efforts. They did a magnificent job under extreme circumstances and based on the satellite evidence were able to minimize damage in many areas in the interior and eastern portions of the Chiricahuas. Hopefully, as photographs begin to emerge, a balanced appraisal of the effects from the fire will prevail. It is my wish that the fire does not become the poster child for illegal immigration in the US, the 2 issues are separate and conflating the 2 will not help the recovery of a community based on tourism.

  2. Hi Bruce, I do enjoy your comments. Yes, the two issues are separate in that they require completely different solutions. However, wherever I go, it seems that the entire country away from the immediate border has very little idea what is going on, and even less motivation to do anything about it. Education on the issue is the primary reason I insert the matter of immigration into blog posts, when there is a valid connection. Tone is hard to work into posts or emails. I hope for real discourse--we've had enough rants and untruths on both sides. And in my wildest dreams, I hope for solutions.

  3. I'm in complete agreement and think your blog has provided valuable information during the fire, especially to those located around the globe who visit and find enjoyment in the Chiricahuas.

    Language is our common currency and some days my wallet is empty.

  4. I hadn't noticed any empty-wallet syndrome!