Saturday, June 28, 2014

 Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Forest fires are no joke!  For our final week residing in Arizona, we lived within sight and smell of a massive forest fire. The San Juan fire began during the week prior to July 4th, 2014.  An alarm sounded in the neighboring town of Show Low alerting of the danger and there was chatter in all the checkout lines about the possibility of evacuation.  I remember quickly gathering my items and alerting Brian via phone that we may be evacuated.

Fire as seen from end of driveway
The drive home was surreal.The closer I got to the ranch the more visible the smoke plume became.Being new to such "excitement", I made a quick detour to stop at the general store about a mile from the cabin.The long time locals explained how we would be alerted to any  evacuations and my fears subsided a bit

Red glow at dusk
Night fell and the fire grew.  An eerie glow could be seen on the horizon and Brian and I made nervous jokes about how the view resembled Mordor.  Flames could actually be observed with the naked eye from our front porch.  The fires was burning just 6 miles (as the crow flies) from our front door.  Neither of us slept well those first few nights.
We worried about the men and women fighting the fire.  It had been determined the fire's origination was "human" and therefore entirely preventable.  Emotions of sadness and fear easily swayed to anger with this new information.

We were not unfamiliar with the toll a forest fire can have on a small town when we saw the smoke stack rising over the horizon, just miles from our homestead.  The Yarnell 19 were still fresh in our memory from the summer before.  The Yarnell Hill Fire was ignited by lightening on June 28, 2013.  On June 30, 2013, the fire over ran and killed a crew of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Never Forget!

People lost their lives and the mourning was palpable.  It was the talk at the post office, the general store and the local watering hole in our small town of less than 1000 residents.  News traveled quickly and concerns rose as drought like conditions plagued the "forest" at our own back door.  Flags in every community were at half mast.

In Vernon (a neighboring town), a town meeting was scheduled and we were encouraged to attend.  I took Truman and drove over to the meeting.  Officials were sharing information with residents regarding the status of the fire and possible evacuations.  Many locals were agitated over what seemed to be a lack of "aggressive tactics" on the part of the fire crews.  These emotional flames were soothed by the memory of the Yarnell 19.  That wound was still raw in most Arizonans.
Vernon San Juan Fire Mtg

Emergency Management Leads explained they did not was a repeat of Yarnell Hill.  They had learned from that fire and in order to protect lives, crews would focus specifically on containment.  Evacuations would be advised using a "door to door" method if necessary.

In all, the San Juan Fire burned close to 7000 acres.  It was noted that this total would have been worse had preventative measures not been in place.  Prescribed burns are one of these methods.  They are used to reduce the amount of "fire fuel" which are key in forest fire growth.  Ground debris is gathered and burned with monitoring.  Since 2004, following the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, policies were put in place in the state of Arizona that resulted in 70,000 acres of mechanical treatment over a 10 year period (which concluded in August 2014).  A large portion of those treatments were directly in the path of the San Juan Fire aiding in fire suppression efforts.

Horse riding meeting goers
So what's the point?  Dear readers, when camping, please be considerate of "Fire Threat Levels" and abide by local fire restrictions, if posted.  Make sure fires are never left unattended while burning and completely extinguished when leaving the area.  Support local prescribed prevention efforts.  This was our home and continues to be the home of people we know and love.  Fires are not always preventable nor predictable, but awareness (to avoid human origination) is key.    

Fire as seen from Hwy 61

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