We Think Too Often of Fire

Photo by Kelly Kramer

Wildfires leave scars that last for decades, which is why preventing them is so important. | Kelly Kramer

We are forced too often to think about fire.

Hundreds of photos of Oak Creek Canyon have appeared in Arizona Highways. It’s a favorite destination for our contributors, who capture the way the water spills and pools in the creek. The way the light echoes across red walls of the canyon, then filters through its trees. Its birds and deer and all of the pretty things that tend to go where water is.

In the coming weeks and months, those photos will become outdated, wrong, thanks to the Slide Fire. The pretty things likely will return when the flames have gone, but the trees will have a century’s worth of growing to do. And, months from now, in an image review, we’ll see photos of the canyon. Rather than plucking our favorite for a portfolio, we’ll remind each other that the landscape is different, darker now, just as it is in Bear Wallow. In Carr and Cave Creek canyons. In Yarnell.

Fire, in some cases, is more animal than element. It jumps and claws and changes direction. For fire, roads mean merely a suggestion to stop. With the Slide Fire, as with the 475 other human-caused fires this year — and as with Wallow three years ago — the animal never should have been let loose.

We preach Leave No Trace ethics in the pages of our magazine because we live them. We know that we, as hikers and campers and cyclists and climbers, are stewards of the land. Our June issue addresses Leave No Trace as it relates to Fossil Creek, a once-pristine wilderness area that’s being decimated by recreationists who can’t seem to clean up their garbage. There, the U.S. Forest Service has outlawed campfires because too many people were leaving them unattended. Because too few people paid attention to Leave No Trace. Or never learned the ethics. Or didn’t care.

Learn them. Care.

Here’s why you should: Two years ago, we published a story about what the Wallow Fire did to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. It wasn’t pretty. The story came out around the 10th anniversary of Rodeo-Chediski, which, before Wallow, was the state’s largest fire. That story, at its root, was about the Leave No Trace ethics, too, as the men responsible walked away from their campfire.

This image shows the aftermath of the devastating Wallow Fire, another human-caused blaze. | Kelly Kramer

That campfire ultimately burned 535,000 acres. Only time will tell how big the Slide Fire will be and just how many acres of forest it will destroy, but we pray that we never see a fire of Wallow’s scale again. Almost as much as we pray for rain.

This week, we used orange Post-It notes on a map to mark fire-damaged areas of the state. And we got a little choked up, both for the memories we have of the fire-cut forests and for the theft — there are places in Arizona that we’d have liked our children and grandchildren to have experienced the way we have, to have caught the whisper of wilderness in pristine places.

Those Post-It notes looked absurd against the soft palette of the map, but when you visualize the impact of fire that way, you realize that humans are destroying the things that they love most — open space, breathable air, a sense of freedom. And that, too, is absurd.

Yes, there’s a restorative power to fire. It can cleanse a landscape, make way for new growth, prevent future fires. But as our editor said this week, “let Mother Nature take care of herself.” And leave your campfires “dead out.”  Because we’re really tired of thinking about fire.

12 Comments

Filed under Eco Issues

12 responses to “We Think Too Often of Fire

  1. Well written and amen!

  2. A beautiful, heartfelt, and crucial piece of writing on a topic that’s so desperately important to all of us in Arizona. With the loss of more than 1 million acres of mixed conifer forests in the last decade (Rodeo-Chediski & Bear Wallow), and our forests in such sad shape still (bark beetle, continued drought), the threat is as high as ever. Sad to think that the folks who read and heed these words are likely already aware, like preaching to the choir. The folks that really need the education aren’t likely to find this or take the time. Please, forward the links to everyone you know. Fires of human-caused origin are so preventable; public awareness is the key.

  3. After the Wallow Fire was out, I went to one of my favorite places in the world, Escudilla Mountain. I was devastated by how much damage there was to this wonderful location.
    I’m now wondering what condition we will find Oak Creek Canyon in once this fires is out. If the flames stay close to the ground and out of the tree tops, we will be extremely fortunate. One my families annual rituals is to hike the West Fork of Oak Creek on Thanksgiving Day. My stomach tightens as I think about the fire’s forces against this fragile eco-system.
    P.S., please keep Jack Dykinga in your thoughts as he fights a very imposing illness.

    • Of course we will, in our positive thoughts and prayers. We also understand and share your love of this area, having spent much time there. Have courage. I was in Yellowstone during their Great Fires of ’88. I’ve been back several times since. You’d be amazed. Nature is stronger than man’s carelessness.

  4. Ken Robinson

    Maybe Arizona Highways is tired of thinking about fire. As someone who has been directly impacted by it I’m tired of thinking about it as well. However, cleaning up garbage, outlawing campfires, instituting fire restrictions, leaving no trace and praying for rain isn’t going to change the fact that forest fuel loads in Arizona are 10 times greater than they were before European settlers arrived. If Arizona Highways truly wants to lessen fire danger in our forest then they should print stories about the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. They should also advocate for increased funding to speed up the process of forest thinning which will reduce fire danger and bring back sustainable conditions that used to existed in our National Forest before Europeans ever arrived.

    • Ken Robinson, I couldn’t agree more. We have allowed our forests to become so incredibly overgrown that any fire becomes a monster. The White Mountain Apache Tribe has been thinning their forests and when compared with the Forest Service lands next door, the differences are amazing.
      Not only the federal Congress but the Arizona Legislature need to get serious about finding ways to thin our forests. All avenues need to be explored, including working with the lumber industry to find a way to make the smaller trees profitable to harvest. Funding needs to come from both government and private sources, since both are affected by the devastating fires that we have been experiencing.
      I do think that Arizona Highways gets that and is working to get the public educated about the crisis. But they are just one voice and this crisis needs many many voices.
      I grew up in northern New Mexico, which has also been devestated by fire over the last decade. It breaks my heart to see the mountains surrounding my home town stripped of the beautiful pine and fur forests.

      • Ken Robinson

        I think that Arizona Highways is in a unique position to advocate and drum up support for the restoration of southwestern forest due to the type of audience that reads its publication. I have enjoyed looking at the magazine for years and imagine that others have a similar appreciation that I have for the unique and varied landscapes that Arizona has to offer; which are so well illustrated by the magazine. I have spent 20 years exploring the Arizona backcountry and have seen the changes made by fire. Some of the changes have been beneficial but most have been devastating due to the fact that a high-intensity burn regime has replaced low-intensity fires that once dominated the landscape.
        We are all stakeholders that have a vested interest in restoring the vitality of our forest. I believe the benefits will far outweigh any cost. It’s creates jobs and is good for local businesses, tourism, wildlife, plant life, and is just ascetically pleasing to the eye and to the camera. We owe to ourselves and to future generations to fight for and support this cause. It just so happens that there is a Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) stakeholder meeting taking place May 28th in the Fremont Room of the DuBois Conference Center on the campus of Northern Arizona University from 9am-4pm. http://4fri.org/pdfs/meetings/stakeholders/stakeholder_agenda_052814.pdf I encourage all those who can, attend this meeting and learn what 4FRI is all about (please spread the word). You can also find information on 4FRI here: http://4fri.org/index.html. The work has already started and we all need to support the efforts of 4FRI so that we all can continue to enjoy all the beautiful landscapes that Arizona has to offer.

    • Thanks, Ken. We’re considering a story about the Four Forest Restoration Initiative for our 2015 editorial calendar.

      • Ken Robinson

        I think that Arizona Highways is in a unique position to advocate and drum up support for the restoration of southwestern forest due to the type of audience that reads its publication. I have enjoyed looking at the magazine for years and imagine that others have a similar appreciation that I have for the unique and varied landscapes that Arizona has to offer; which are so well illustrated by the magazine. I have spent 20 years exploring the Arizona backcountry and have seen the changes made by fire. Some of the changes have been beneficial but most have been devastating due to the fact that a high-intensity burn regime has replaced low-intensity fires that once dominated the landscape.
        We are all stakeholders that have a vested interest in restoring the vitality of our forest. I believe the benefits will far outweigh any cost. It’s creates jobs and is good for local businesses, tourism, wildlife, plant life, and is just ascetically pleasing to the eye and to the camera. We owe to ourselves and to future generations to fight for and support this cause. It just so happens that there is a Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) stakeholder meeting taking place May 28th in the Fremont Room of the DuBois Conference Center on the campus of Northern Arizona University from 9am-4pm. http://4fri.org/pdfs/meetings/stakeholders/stakeholder_agenda_052814.pdf I encourage all those who can, attend this meeting and learn what 4FRI is all about (please spread the word). You can also find information on 4FRI here: http://4fri.org/index.html. The work has already started and we all need to support the efforts of 4FRI so that we all can continue to enjoy all the beautiful landscapes that Arizona has to offer.

  5. Sara Hill

    The people who are leaving trash in Fossil Creek and abandoning campfires everywhere are not the type of people who read Arizona Highways. They are not recreationists. They are not hikers, cyclists, and climbers. They may camp, but they don’t buy their gear at REI or Summit Hut or DMS. How do we educate them? I do not know.

  6. Brook Moon

    “…you realize that humans are destroying the things that they love most — open space, breathable air, a sense of freedom.”

    Please do not lump all humans into that same hating pile of crap. In no way do I ever destroy the things I love MOST, or ANYTHING that I love. I don’t even destroy the things I DON’T love. You diminish good people with such broad generalities, and that is a terrible injustice. If you hate people, please keep it to yourself. If you hate destroyers, shout THAT from your pages.

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