Monday, June 13, 2011

The Summer of Fire

Smoke from two regions of the Horseshoe Two Fire on 11 June 2011. 
To the left is smoke from the West Turkey Creek area; to the right, from Whitetail Canyon. (Photos by Narca)

Firefighters confronting the Horseshoe Two Fire in Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains continue to encounter unprecedented fuel dryness. The values being found for both dead and live fuels are lower than ever before recorded in a wildfire.

Those record dry conditions are shared by the other Sky Island ranges in southeast Arizona. The record freeze last winter damaged or killed many oaks and pines, further drying them, and that damage (coupled with extreme winter drought) has greatly intensified the fire danger. We've all been holding our breaths that the other magnificent ranges will be spared the inferno being experienced by the Chiricahuas and the White Mountains, but a new fire began yesterday afternoon at the southern terminus of the Huachuca Mountains, in Coronado National Memorial, and already it is described as "massive." It was estimated at today's briefing to have burned about 3,000 acres in less than 24 hours. There were low whistles among the firemen when they heard how fast it has moved. (For comparison, Horseshoe Two grew to over 9,000 acres on the first day, when it was subjected to 50 mph winds.)

I'm not in a position to add solid information about this new Monument Fire, other than to say that friends living in Ash Canyon have already been evacuated, and as they left, they could see fire on the ridge above Ash Canyon. We have had no lightning. This fire, like Horseshoe Two, was human-caused, and the Coronado National Memorial was closed to public entry at the time the fire began. It lies along the Mexican border, and the fire began in the US just a short distance from the border. As with Horseshoe Two, the evidence implicating illegal entrants is entirely circumstantial. (But, duh!)

Returning to what is happening in the Chiricahuas, weather today is expected to be like yesterday's, only hotter. That means another day of wind at 30-35 mph on the ridges and 20-25 mph in the valleys. Conditions are likely to slip into another red-flag alert. Most of the fire movement is expected to be in the north, where it has reached Cochise Head. The planned fire perimeter lies along Marble and Emigrant Canyons in the north; terrain here should be much more manageable for holding the line.

Map of Horseshoe Two Fire on 13 June 11

In Whitetail Canyon, mop-up operations continue, to assure that residents are safe when they are allowed back in.

In the active western perimeter, winds will likely continue to eddy, causing erratic and unpredictable fire behavior. Yesterday some fire moved across the line in high wind just west of the monument, but it was contained, and crews this morning did not seem concerned about that breach.

Detail of active north edge of fire, 13 June 11

About two-thirds of Chiricahua National Monument has now burned, including Bonita Canyon up to Massai Point (a larger area than shown on the map, which doesn't reflect work done during the night). Crews have been carefully igniting ridges and letting the fire back down into the canyons in order to achieve a lower-intensity burn.

Today and tonight, firing operations will continue in the monument and in the section marked "Div B" on the upper map.

This rather beautiful map shows the progression of the Horseshoe Two Fire since its inception on May 8 through June 11, with the early period given in cooler blues. The fire now stands at 148,505 acres and is 48% contained. The estimated containment date is still June 22. The fire's growth potential and terrain difficulty remain extreme.

Arizonans will never forget this summer of fire, beyond all the bounds of what we've known before. And what happens, I wonder, when the pre-monsoonal lightning storms arrive?

No comments:

Post a Comment