The way it is

… I took this shot this morning shortly after takeoff as I headed up to Mormon Lake to see if I could get some shots of herds of elk that are reputed to doing their annual gathering. Even though I flew relatively low around the lake I did not see any elk, but I did see a lot of White Face Heifers, Black Angus and similar creatures. It is not so comfortable for me to fly at low altitude as all my instincts are those of a glider guider … we get high and stay high … provided we can. From a higher altitude though things on the ground would have been pretty well hazed out as smoke continues to dominate the sky as far as you can see in every direction. Lots of fire in the state and elsewhere.

In the lower left of the image SR 179 is traveling north and at the first traffic circle, continuing straight takes you up Schnebly Hill Road, turning left takes you by Tlaquepaque and then it turns right and you are going by Creekside and the other restaurants, then you get to the Y and turning left brings you into West Sedona; directly above the Y is Uptown and SR 89A continues up to the right and heads up canyon. The San Francisco Peaks silhouette is directly above Wilson Mountain.

Saturday I was invited out on a Prescribed Fire that was going to burn off about 4,000 acres of grassland; about five miles east of I-17 down Dugas Road. We got there early and there were crews of about fifty people, a helicopter and lots of equipment. This area has not seen fire in over twenty years and there are a lot of invasive grasses and trees that have altered the original grassland nature of the area. One of the primary native grasses is Tabosa which is a very important forage grass for wildlife and also cattle. Burning it at this time of year, just before the monsoons sends its root structure into a very active state which coupled with the rains from the monsoons makes it take off and dominate other forms of grass and foliage which is not beneficial to the area. Burn it too late and you damage or kill the plant and ditto too early. Along with this, the fire would take out other vegetation which has no business in the grasslands like Junipers … they suck 25 or more gallons of water a day from the soil which doesn’t leave water for the Tabosa and other grasses. Life underground is like warfare and it is survival for the toughest life forms. Being a grass fire, it would have been relatively fast moving and lasted about a day.

The planning that goes into these fires is extensive and being a prescribed fire it requires approval from the EPA/ADEQ which authorized the fire only under specific circumstances that had to exist at the time they lit it. There was also a checklist with many other items all of which had to exist before they initiated it. A morning briefing was held and all aspects of the plan were discussed including the weather and possible effects from high wind outflows from predicted storms later in the day. Whilst we were doing the briefing, ash from the Brooklyn peak wildfire only 15 miles to the south of us was raining down on us. This is a lightning caused fire which in the span of about two days ripped through over 35,000 acres, traveling over six miles and burning 18,000 acres over night when fires are supposed to lay down and be quiet. When you are out there and discussing a fire such as this and things that can go wrong, you get a real appreciation for what these people go through ,,, a sudden change in wind direction from storm outflow and you can be toast … literally!

While doing the briefing the Fire Manager felt that with the Brooklyn wildfire so close to us and with the smoke it was generating and the potential hazards to personnel, that the fire would be a no go and called it off. Once you start these fires you don’t just turn them off and he made a great decision … likely the burn which had also been planned for last year will be coming up next year … just not this year. After crews were dispersed to go help on other fires, we checked out the Brooklyn Fire and a few other things before Brian dropped me off at my vehicle. A great and illuminating morning.

I talked to Brian later in the day and he told me about an event that happened a few hours after I left. He and another fire manager had gone back to the briefing area we had been at in the morning and while standing out there talking about the fires, a huge lightning bolt erupted from a cloud and hit the ridge just above where they were standing. Just the one enormous bolt and it did not start a fire … I joked with him that the Almighty, was telling him that he made the right decision that morning and that when it was time he would take care of it himself! I also explored a few other alternatives, but we won’t go into those here. Funny! Fire, is after all a natural part of the ecosystem and nature can better determine when and where than humans.

As for where I stand on fire, I believe in letting natural wildfires burn their natural course, whether it be one acre or a hundred thousand acres; I think that prescribed fires have a place, but that the impact on humans is an important consideration and that was taken into account yesterday; not sure all fire managers would have made the same decision, but it was refreshing to see the fire called off after a considerable amount of time and money had been invested in it. Then there are the managed fires, what I now call the fake wildfires, and examples of them are the Boundary Fire, last year the Jack Fire and the Mormon fire … I’ll talk about them another night, but they are not true wildfires or natural in any sense of the word.

A beautiful week is underway and I’m listening to rain coming down … the air is being cleansed … fires are laying down and perhaps for the first time in weeks we may have a few days of smoke free air … maybe not, but we can always hope.

Cheers

Ted

 

And in this journey over a thousand hills and valleys called life, he is wisest who

is patient where the way is hard, has faith when he does not understand, and carries

into the dark places the light of a cheerful heart.

 

Max Ehrmann