Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

September 26, 2014

Bone-ing up on the Slide Fire

 


by Paul Cooley

The reopening of the recreational facilities in Oak Creek Canyon and the Slide Fire were the subjects discussed in a presentation by Travis Bone of the USDA Forest Service September 11th 2014 to the Sedona Westerner hiking club at their first meeting of the new hiking year held at the Elk's Lodge, 110 Airport Road in Sedona.

Bone set aside his primary duties as the District Archaeologist for the Red Rock District of the Coconino National Forest in the late afternoon of May 20, 2014 to go into action to help combat the Slide Fire which was first spotted about 4 p.m. on that day just upstream of Slide Rock State Park.

Within an hour and half after it was initially located, the Slide Fire was quickly spreading to north along the west side of Oak Creek Canyon, and, Bone says, it became apparent that in order to effectively contain the blaze a quick assessment and plan of action had to be implemented.

By midnight of the 20th, the fire had already spread into West Fork, the jewel of Oak Creek Canyon, and a Type I Incident Management Team (IMT) was being called into action, said Bone.

A Type I Incident team is a Federally or State-certified team, it is the most robust IMT with the most training and experience. Sixteen Type 1 IMTs are now in existence, and operate through interagency cooperation of federal, state and local land and emergency management agencies.


Travis Bone

The Slide Fire resulted in 21,277 acres burned, Bone told the audience, "It was a miracle that it did not cross to the east side of 89A." If it had Flagstaff suburban subdivisions such as Kachina Village, with its population of over 2600 residences and their homes would have been threatened.

Resulting damage from the Slide Fire remains a threat to human life and property, said Bone. Bone says, it was necessary for BAER treatments to be implemented. BAER stands for Burned Area Emergency Response, and is a program of the U.S. Forest Service designed to meet problems arising from the aftermath of a wildfire, such as soil erosion from loss of vegetation, flooding from increased run off, and increased sedimentation downstream, which can damage houses or fill reservoirs, putting endangered species and community water supplies at risk. In the case of the Slide Fire, it was contained just as the Monsoon season approached, therefore, the BAER assessment and timely implementation of it recommendations was imperative.

Bone assured us that the first priority of the Forest Service is always human life. Bone says the first priority of the Forest Service was to minimize risk to residents and persons visiting Oak Creek Canyon. He emphasized, that once in the Canyon the Forest Service has no way of monitoring where visitors may go, so that if a flood occurred or landslide, it would be problematic trying to reach the visitors and evacuate them. The determination was made to close the Canyon, all agencies involved agreed, said Bone.

Bone says Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona have dodged any major post fire damage. Bone says that evidence of a major anticipated fish kill has not been seen. Large amounts of ash were expected to have made their way into Oak Creek, but after the fire there was "a week of crazy wind that had the effect of blowing ash away" says Bone. Bone warns that the impact of a wildfire can be felt for a period of 3 to 5 years or more after the event.

Bone reported that the re-opening of the recreational facilities in Oak Creek Canyon depends upon when it is reasonably believed by the Forest Service that the 2014 Monsoon season has ended. Then, he says, they will wait two weeks in order to re-evaluate the closure. We must show prudence and patience as we applaud the excellent work done by all the agencies involved.

If you are interested in joining the club, please go to our website at http://sedonawesterners.org or just come to one of our monthly meetings. The next one will be on Thursday, Nov 13, 2014 at 7 pm at the Sedona Elks Club, 110 Airport Road.