Monday, June 20, 2011

Wow! The Fire Lines Held!

Yesterday's raging wind, which gusted to about 50 mph, created serious challenges for fire crews working on both the Horseshoe Two and the Monument Fires. In the Chiricahuas, those lines actually held!  Incident Commander Jim Thomas congratulated the firefighters, saying that the success was the culmination of days of hard work well-done at the active north end of the fire. The crews held onto key terrain, and Horseshoe Two is "still in the box." As of last night, this fire had burned 213,511 acres and was 80% contained.

Map of the Horseshoe Two Fire on 20 June 2011

Yesterday's wind blew from the west, pushing the fire east into Emigrant and Wood Canyons, where it eventually stalled in lighter, discontinuous fuel. Last night during calmer conditions, fire crews mopped up in Marble Canyon and extended the fire edge in Division PP.

Detail of Horseshoe Two Fire map on 20 June 2011

During the high winds, crews were monitoring all the cooler regions of the burn as well, taking no chances that flare-ups would send fire brands aloft to start new fires.

Today the crews plan to secure Wood Canyon, Keating Canyon and the Heller Ranch, and to mop up in Marble Canyon.

A high pressure weather system is building, and light (but potentially erratic) winds are expected from the west and northwest. Temperatures will be slightly cooler in the 90ºs and relative humidity is rising, perhaps as high as 14% overnight. (Yesterday on the Monument Fire a RH value of 0 was recorded!) So conditions will be much more favorable for managing both fires, although firefighters will still need to be careful of surprises caused by shifting, erratic wind, which could raise fire whirls (dust devils carrying flame). Dryness of fuel is just as extreme as it was yesterday.

Air support should be able to fly today for both fires. The air operations chief cautioned that erratic, 20 mph gusts today could still be problematic, so air crews need to be careful.

On other areas of the Horseshoe Two burn, rehabilitation continues today with significant mop-up slated for the interior of the Chiricahua Mountains. Crews will concentrate on rehabbing the area from Paradise south.

Our third Type 1 team is in the process of transitioning to Stan Benes' Type 2 team from the Northern Rockies, which will assume command of the fire on Thursday. A wrap-up meeting for the Type 1 team is being scheduled for 6 PM tomorrow (Tuesday) at the Rodeo Community Center. Watch for an announcement! It is the community's chance to thank the departing crews for their long hours of difficult work, conducted in the highly professional manner we've seen in all the Type 1 teams that have worked here.

Sign in downtown Portal (slightly embellished)
(Photos by Narca)

We are so, so close to seeing an end to this ordeal in the Chiricahuas. Let there be no surprises at this late stage!

Yesterday evening, it was possible to listen to the meeting in Sierra Vista about the Monument Fire, using the Volke website for streaming events over the internet. Click on "Volke" if you want to sign up for future events.

Yesterday was very intense for folks in the way of the Monument Fire. Fire whirls cast fire brands across Highway 92 in several places, and the live audio feed from the scanner that tuned into radio used by fire crews was full of pleas for help at several locales. The Facebook page for the Monument Fire was in a state of pandemonium, but the voices of firefighters on the radio sounded cool-headed and professional.

Plenty of help is on the way for our friends in Sierra Vista. The Monument Fire is the #1 fire priority in the nation. The National Guard is coming, primarily to help with jobs like security of evacuated areas, because they aren't trained to do the actual firefighting. Fort Huachuca will be receiving help from other bases as well. Now that air support can fly, the fort and the fire team have plenty of craft to put into the air.

I was amazed to learn that the Antelope Fire (which consumed 2000 acres north of the Monument Fire before it was contained) was started by a spark from the blade of a bulldozer striking a rock. In retrospect, crews are actually glad for that fire because it created a good blackline on the base, according to a speaker at last night's informational meeting.

As of last night, the Monument Fire had burned 26,956 acres and was 27% contained.

Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch said at last night's meeting that the Forest has assembled a fire team to advise them not just on the current fires, but on approaching the Forest as a whole, during this season of unprecedented fire danger. Their exact goals weren't clear to me. He also said that meterologists are not seeing any indication of the monsoon's arrival very soon.

That seems slightly at variance with the rise in humidity announced at this morning's Horseshoe Two Fire briefing. We always look for a rise in humidity preceeding the onset of the summer rains. In fact, the indicator I use is the appearance of tarantulas. Male tarantulas emerge when humidity rises, because they can more easily sense the presence of females still tucked into their burrows. Usually a rain follows the tarantulas' emergence by 1-3 days. So if anyone starts seeing tarantulas, let us know!

Mary Christensen, information officer for Horseshoe Two, said this morning that a delay in the rains will enable more rehab work to be done here before possible floods come. (But in the Huachuchas, a delay could extend the burning!)

We are seeing more wild refugees driven down from the burnt areas of the Chiricahuas. Bears have been visiting feeders around the town of Portal, and one found us last night. Another evening visitor was this Striped Skunk. Water put out for wildlife has been bringing in everything from Gray Foxes to Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. One big diamondback (at least 5 feet long) spent a half hour sucking water from a leaky faucet.

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