Contributors Ted Grussing, Derek von Briesen Get Aerial View of #SlideFire

Photo courtesy

Smoke snakes through Oak Creek Canyon as it approaches the town of Sedona. The San Francisco Peaks are in the background. | Courtesy of Ted Grussing

Sedona residents awoke this morning to their first taste of the Slide Fire smoke that has been inundating Flagstaff since the fire broke out at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The cloud blanketed the town — a good sign, actually, indicative of a more favorable direction of reduced winds that aided the stalwart crews fighting a fire that’s now grown to almost 5,000 acres.

This is the good news. And there’s more. It’s as hopeful as can be, given the circumstances.

Today signals the beginning of a significant shift in the weather. Gone are the strongest advisory-level winds of early this week that fueled the fire’s rapid northward march, threatening the southern Flagstaff communities of Forest Highlands, Kachina Village and Mountainaire. Because winds will be breezy again this afternoon, these communities remain in the pre-evacuation state of readiness they’ve been in for almost 24 hours.

On Friday, a “seasonably strong low moving through Arizona” will mean reduced winds and an even more favorable change in direction, and by afternoon, there’s a 40 percent chance of rain showers that could be a boon to firefighting efforts.

More good news: The fire has now been officially designated a Type 1 incident (top priority), meaning fire personnel available anywhere in the country can be brought in.

After an early morning flyover of the burned area in pilot extraordinaire, aerial photographer and frequent Arizona Highways contributor Ted Grussing’s Lambada motor glider, we spent an hour or so talking to the helicopter base commander and a number of the pilots about the water and fire-retardant drops that are making the first real progress in containment. There were personnel from Tucson, California, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Many have come directly from the devastating fires in San Diego.

An aerial image of Sedona's surrounding mountains. | Courtesy of Ted Grussing

An aerial image of Sedona’s surrounding mountains. | Courtesy of Ted Grussing

Photo courtesy

A close-up of West Fork and the fire’s origin point (left). | Courtesy of Ted Grussing

Ground crews are also hard at work on the northern perimeter along Forest Road 535, backfiring to create firebreaks and contain the fire’s northward spread.

Yavapai and Coconino counties’ search-and-rescue teams, including quite a few volunteer members from Sedona, have been scouring the backcountry over the last two days for stray hikers and campers, ensuring their safe evacuation, as well as manning the many trailhead, forest-road and highway closure points.

All these guys are incredibly hardworking and motivated. Their reputations as heroes are richly deserved.


Photo courtesy

A firefighting crew prepares to take off. | Courtesy of Ted Grussing

But there’s also some very bad news, likely the worst we could have expected.

Take a look at the Coconino National Forest map of the fire from yesterday, and you’ll see that the entire 3.5-mile length of the West Fork Trail was overrun by the fire as it moved northward. The first reports of the fire burning in the watershed home of our most popular and beautiful trail came yesterday afternoon (as did the first confirming incident-report maps). Ted’s amazing aerial photos from this morning show the deep chasm that is the West Fork watershed still choked with smoke.

Coconino National Forest map

Given the number of tinder-dry, bark-beetle-infested ponderosa pines in West Fork, it would be a miracle if parts of the trail weren’t severely burned. It’s hard to tell from the maps, but it looks like maybe the first few crossings may have survived intact. But there’s no real way to know until there are actual boots on the ground.

And it could be weeks, months or even years before those boots are public. Obviously this is only informed supposition on my part, but given that certain badly burned trails from the 2006 Brins Fire in Sedona stayed closed for more than three years, this fire of equal magnitude could bring similar closures.

What’s worse, a trail of such enchanting beauty could be horrifically marred for years to come. As many have pointed out, fires are natural, restorative and necessary. It will grow back, likely healthier, years from now. That’s for certain.

Losing this world-famous trail will have a real impact on Sedona’s business community. That’s for certain, too.

And perhaps a generation of visitors, Arizonans and Sedonans will miss its tranquil beauty, its magnificent canyon walls, the fall color change, the quiet of a freshly fallen snow in winter along its peaceful banks.

I’m deeply saddened to think I’m unlikely to ever see it again as beautiful as I’ve been privileged to photograph it for the last decade.

Bad news, indeed.

Paul Simon’s words ring truer than ever today: “Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph / Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.”

—Derek von Briesen


Filed under Eco Issues, News

12 responses to “Contributors Ted Grussing, Derek von Briesen Get Aerial View of #SlideFire

  1. garyobrien

    Nice photographs. Any way to run them larger?

  2. Ann Troxell

    Derek – thanks for he great and insightful article. Makes me want to review your photos of this unique location.

  3. Pingback: #SlideFire Still at Zero-Percent Containment; Woods Canyon Lake Fire 40 Percent Contained | Arizona Highways

  4. Alex Ware

    Ted, you are brilliant and your insight is so refreshing. In this tragedy there will still be new life and beauty in days to come.

  5. Pingback: Today’s Photo from Ted Grussing Photography: The passing of a world renowned treasure | Sedona.Biz - The Internet Voice of Sedona and The Verde Valley

  6. Esther Niner

    My heart is heavy at the thought of West Fork being burned…something very precious is gone. I will never see it as it was in my lifetime…

  7. I fear the summer monsoons without the trees to soak up a lot of the moisture. Oak Creek water quality from the retardant and clarity from the runoff will suffer and West Fork will not be the destination it has been. No good news in this…

  8. richard olson

    I have a home in Sedona and am watching the smoke every morning. After reading your article I came to the realization of the impact of what is going on The tears are streaming from down my face as I have so many memories of 30 years of this very special place.

  9. Pingback: Today’s Photo from Ted Grussing Photography: A certain beauty | Sedona.Biz - The Internet Voice of Sedona and The Verde Valley

  10. SteveO

    A crown fire such as the slide fire is absolutely not a natural occurrence. Natural fires burn through the brush not hot enough to kill most of the larger trees. Ironically, 100+ years of fire suppression has led to forests choked with trees and brush that have been allowed to grow unchecked. The thick growth then fuels a massive fire that burns everything in its path. Natural, restorative fires are those that clear the brush yet leave the forest largely intact, allowing for restoration to occur much sooner than a scorching crown fire.

  11. My heart and soul are hurting over this loss. My memories span over 60 years. I treasure my memories, and I ache for what was to come.

  12. Pingback: Photos of Arizona lawyer tell Sedona fire story via @azhighways | AZ Attorney

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