Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Relief, Tempered

I'm trying to restrain that feeling of relief, just in case the Horseshoe Two Fire has more surprises in store, but as of this morning the beast is 90% contained and burning only at the north end in fuels that are increasingly sparse and discontinuous. Yesterday, June 20, was the first day that Horseshoe Two did not produce a towering column of smoke.

North end of the Horseshoe Two Fire on 21 June 2011

A solemn moment came in this morning's fire briefing, when crews learned of the deaths yesterday of two firefighters who were working on the Blue Ribbon Fire in Florida. Everyone observed a time of silence. The firefighting community is tightly bonded. The names of the two men have not been released, but they worked for the Florida Division of Forestry. The Blue Ribbon Fire started last Thursday and had been declared contained, but flared again yesterday.

Rich Harvey, the Incident Commander in training, was eloquent in pointing out the dangers that all the crews face. He asked the assembled crew bosses what they had heard when the meterologist said it is going to be hot. "Did you hear dehydration?" Apparently some of the more dangerous situations leading to fatalities include being isolated in a quiet part of a big fire; they include times of transition between teams; they include times when the danger seems minimal, and crews let down their guard.

Weather today in the Chiricahua Mountains is expected to be similar to yesterday's, except that the wind is shifting to come from a more northerly direction. Today the diurnal wind will be blowing lightly upslope and up canyons, and is expected to be the most erratic on the lower western edge of the fire near Division B. Dust devils could bedevil the crews working there. (Scroll down to yesterday's full fire map to see the location.) Wednesday and Thursday are both predicted to be days of "excessive" heat.

Most of the perimeter is probably secure, although patrols will continue to search out and destroy any hot spots. Fire teams strive to have a 300 ft black line at the perimeter of a fire, because that usually prevents further spread. (I hope that is still the case, in this year of unprecedented conditions of dryness and wind.)

Rehabilitation is a big theme today. Crews will be hauling out equipment, clearing roads of down trees, removing debris in Cave Creek Canyon (in anticipation of possible flooding) and otherwise eradicating the visible effects of fire suppression.

Tonight a wrap-up meeting with the departing Type 1 fire team will be held at the Rodeo Community Center at 6 PM. Come say thank you!

Under the bluest sky we've seen since May 8, Portal Peak towers above my house. Mostly blackened, it also shows a few patches and streaks of green.
(Photos by Narca)

As Horseshoe Two winds down, it has so far burned 223,214 acres, making it Arizona's fourth largest fire in historical times. If you notice the differences between this morning's and yesterday's maps of the north end, you will see that this morning's has been refined to include slightly less land burned.

The fire season is far from over, even though our big Horseshoe Two is mostly roped and tied. We in Portal are still very concerned for our friends in the Huachucas, where the Monument Fire is expected to burn down Carr Canyon today, toward Highway 92.  Lightning that precedes the monsoon in Arizona hasn't even begun. Fire is ravaging seven states––Texas, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, Colorado, California and Arizona––and is springing up in others as well. Mary Christensen told the briefing that 146 new fires have been reported just today in Florida and Texas. Texas is in the midst of record drought. Overall, this is the worst year ever recorded for wildfires in the US. Stay safe. Send rain.

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