Tag Archives: Derek von Briesen

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

Derek von Briesen’s Pristine Peace in Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon, by Derek von Briesen

Oak Creek Canyon, by Derek von Briesen

Below, Arizona Highways contributor Derek von Briesen writes about the Slide Fire and what it means for one of the most frequently visited and photographed destinations in Arizona.

At 4 p.m., the Slide Fire started just upstream from Slide Rock State Park, near the Halfway Picnic Area. With strong southwest winds (a wind advisory had been in effect all day), red-flag humidity levels and an area filled with tinder-dry bark-beetle deadfall, it wasn’t surprising that in just more than three hours, the fire had grown to almost 500 acres.

Awareness spread through the community. Calls, social-media posts and emails began flooding in. We love Oak Creek Canyon, and emotions ran high as we realized how much of what we love was threatened.

In the direct line of fire are Garland’s Lodge and Junipine Resort; dozens of private homes; the treasured Forest Homes rentals; the newly purchased cabins of the Butterfly Garden Inn (formerly Don Hoel’s Cabins); and, today, Kachina Village, Forest Highlands and Flagstaff Pulliam Airport.

This is devastating news. The canyon remains closed until further notice. I can’t imagine things opening up for the busy Memorial Day weekend. And with closures for road repairs to the State Route 89A switchbacks scheduled to close the northern access from May 26 through July, this is going to hit Sedona’s business community really hard.

Most of the burned acreage likely will be highly visible up the steep walls of Oak Creek, with the damage at creek level likely the least. Nevertheless, like all of Oak Creek, this is a spectacularly beautiful stretch of creek, and one that likely will be marred for a long time.

Nature recovers, restores balance. But lovers of the peace and beauty found along this stretch —photographers, hikers, campers, swimmers and anglers — are going to be saddened and a little hardened by the realization that, with another “human-caused origin,” we’ve proverbially shot ourselves in the foot yet again.

As a photographer, in Oak Creek Canyon I found a pristine, wild world of natural beauty and peace. Its quiet, meditative moments inform all my photography, and my goal has always been to show people such places exist, to inspire them to see these places, to love these places and to subsequently protect and preserve these places.

To think that I may simply be chronicling a more beautiful past that will cease to exist is a sobering and devastatingly sad thought.

Thomas Friedman eloquently stated in today’s New York Times: “When we were growing up, ‘later’ meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, visit the same Antarctica, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid — but just later, whenever you got around to it. Not anymore. Later is now when you won’t be able to do any of them ever again. So whatever you’re planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they’ll be gone. Later will be too late.”

Let’s hope, for all our benefits, it’s not too late yet.



Filed under Eco Issues