Thursday, June 24, 2010

Schultz Fire-Day 4

I don't intend to become a "fireblogger", but I've gotten enough feedback from folks who appreciate the updates to keep posting them for now.

Today's news is mostly positive, as Firefighters turn focus to western front , and a lot of folks are saying "No place like home: Grateful evacuees return ". The fire has only grown by 500 acres, to 14,500, and is now 25% contained.

Firefighters had a partial line across the Schultz fire's steep southern end Wednesday, after slow growth on Tuesday and light winds.

The line is significant because it clears the way for them to block fingers of fire reaching toward the San Francisco Peaks on the fire's 8-mile-long western side.

Hot shot crews have hiked in to fight fire on that western front, which lies far from major roads.

Wednesday's biggest event was the return of hundreds of residents who had fled their Timberline and Wupatki Trails homes on Sunday to evacuate from the fire.

Some of the plans and developments for firefighting, according to Miller:

-- The fire's largest area of growth from Tuesday to Wednesday was on the northern end near cinder pits and Forest Road 418, partly due to backburns set to keep fire out of Lockett Meadow proper.

-- Firefighters are directly attacking lines of fire creeping up the southeastern shoulders of Doyle Peak, one of the San Francisco Peaks. They're sometimes fighting fire in pockets of snow.

-- Much of Sugarloaf Peak has now burned in the wildfire, and aerial ignition of the remainder of that peak was planned on Wednesday.

-- These areas now targeted for controlled burns form the eastern entryway to the San Francisco Peaks and Inner Basin.

-- On the fire's southern side, line was being dug by hand on Wednesday.

-- On the western side, controlled burns were planned for more of Schultz Peak, to create a defensible line, Miller said.

-- Hot shot crews were camping in Lockett Meadow to fight fire, and near Schultz Peak, north of Schultz Tank.

-- Building fire line was somewhat difficult on the fire's southern end, due to steep terrain, fallen trees and loose rock.

-- Maps of the fire's progression show the vast majority of what burned had burned on Sunday, and that the fire has grown much less in following days.

-- The fire is slowing down when it hits stands of aspen, and in mixed-conifer, which lie higher on the Peaks. It is still burning intensely in the lower-elevation stands of ponderosa pine.

Worst-case scenarios still have the fire growing to 24,000 acres, or 38 square miles, costing $8 million to fight, and continuing until July 10.

You can find updated reports from incident command here:

Of course, the damage is massive, and it isn't over. When the monsoon season arrives, there will be a serious risk for flooding:

Firefighters' next worry might sound counterintuitive: The start of seasonal monsoon rains.

Fire crews are now mapping the fire's severity, and planning for how to rehabilitate the more severely burned areas before summer rainstorms.

"When the rain comes, there're going to be some pretty serious issues there if we don't get ahead of it," with regards to flooding and erosion, said Rick Miller, operations section chief of the federal team managing the fire.

Some of the drainages off seriously charred Schultz Peak, for example, run for miles into Timberline.

Views of that peak were evident Wednesday from Timberline, showing heavy burns and an exposed Waterline Road used to access city water supplies in Inner Basin.

Soils severely burned in wildfires can become "hydrophobic" -- literally "water-fearing" -- and immediately shed every drop that falls on them.

Allow me to go on a brief rant here: this fire began because some idiot abandoned a campfire. I love camping, and I understand the ambiance of a campfire. But fire safety absolutely must come first. Don't even think of starting a campfire if you are at all unsure how to completely extinguish it, and I do mean completely. Have plenty of water, and a shovel to make sure that all coals are out, then bury with several inches of actual dirt (not mulchy soil, which will burn). Don't assume that a lack of smoke means your fire is out; it doesn't. Hot coals can re-ignite hours later.

Better yet (especially around here), skip the fire completely. Watch the stars instead.

1 comment:

Lockwood said...

A geoblogger I read regularly is also in the Flagstaff area, and has been posting some photos as well. If you don't know his blog, it's Earthly Musings. I'm leaving a link to your blog there as well.