Thursday, June 9, 2016

Reasons Why the Juniper Fire is the "Ideal Fire" to Let Play Its Natural Role

Juniper Fire, June 2016.  Photo credit:

Where fire managers have the opportunity, unplanned ignitions can lead to overwhelming success towards resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities and a safer, more effective wildland fire response. We started this conversation earlier this week in a post about the Bert Fire. 

Fire managers on the Juniper Fire are communicating about how they are weighing the risks of allowing the fire to take its natural course for the long-term benefit of the ecosystem there.   

The lightning-caused Juniper Fire started in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness on May 17th on the Tonto National Forest. The wildfire has spread across 22,962 acres with projected fire footprint of 80,000 acres. (That's an 80,000 acre success story fire managers are hoping to tell!) 

Fire Managers have deemed the Juniper Fire an "ideal wildfire" providing economical, feasible and practical opportunities for the fire to do its job and help the ecosystem there. Here's why:

  • It's in a Remote Location
    • The fire started 10 miles south of Young, AZ in remote wilderness, far from human habitation. 
    • The factors point to this fire benefitting the natural resources there. 
    • The roads around the fire provide a perimeter and natural breaks while the fire is burning slow and at low intensity, taking it natural course. 
    • Crews will provide protection and suppression efforts if the fire crawls south, toward the Sonoran Desert.
  • Keeping Fire Crews Safe
    • The fire is burning in rough terrain - it's too risky to send in firefighters. Crews are instead working to create containment lines along the roads. 
    • There are no safe places to land helicopters for necessary tools and supplies.  
  • Sweeping up overgrowth like a janitor
    • Fire hasn't been back in this ecosystem since the US Forest Service began recording fires. There is much buildup of debris and vegetation. This fire will naturally burn through it and leave behind a more resilient landscape. 
  • Provides nutrients for new growth
    • The deserts's arid ecosystem does not allow proper decomposition of vegetation. This keeps vital nutrients locked in. This fire breaks down the dead underbrush, releasing those nutrients so new vegetation can thrive.
    • Low intensity burns do not completely destroy the soil and the ecosystem like high intensity fires will.  
  • With the Support of a Community
    • The community of Young is supportive of the management decision to let this fire do what it needs to do.  Even though closed roads and smoke have impacted their daily lives and businesses.  

Overall, wildland fire management decisions are never easy when one is weighing the risks against the gains, but as conditions such as climate, continue to change, fire managers and our stakeholders are beginning to realize that every fire is not necessarily one that needs suppressing. If the conditions are right, these fires are opportunities for success, rather than devastating loss.  

The more we communicate about how these decisions are made, more stakeholders will come to understand and support them. This will yield more progress towards the goals of the Cohesive Strategy. 

Read full article here

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