Tag Archives: Wildfires

Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear!

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Seventy years ago today, the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council settled on a mascot for their fire-prevention efforts. On August 9, 1944, Smokey Bear was born.

A few things you might not know about Smokey:

  • Smokey’s famous slogan, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” was adopted in 1947. Today, it’s the more inclusive “Only YOU can prevent wildfires.”
  • His proper name is Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear. The “the” was added by songwriters to help with the rhythm of Smokey’s song.
  • Before Smokey came along, Disney loaned the Bambi character to the Forest Service for use as a fire-prevention spokesman.

To celebrate Smokey turning 70, why not take his pledge to be smart in the outdoors and do your part to avoid starting wildfires? We think he’d appreciate it.


Filed under History, News

Two Somber Anniversaries: Doce and Rodeo-Chediski Fires

Jag Fergus | Doce Fire

Jag Fergus | Doce Fire

Some somber news to report: Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Doce Fire, which burned more than 6,700 acres of the Prescott National Forest, and the 12-year anniversary of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, which consumed 468,638 acres in Eastern Arizona. This summer, please follow the Leave No Trace Principles and share them with others. Let’s protect our forests and wilderness areas from fire.

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Filed under Et Cetera, Mother Nature, News

ADOT’s ‘One Less Spark, One Less Wildfire’ Campaign

A very important message from our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation. We hope you’ll share this message on social media so we can spread the word and minimize wildfires this season.


Filed under Eco Issues, Make a Difference

Wallow Fire: Three Years Later and Why Leave No Trace Matters

Photo by Kelly Kramer

Photo by Kelly Kramer

Three years ago today, two men — cousins Caleb and David Malboeuf — were camping in the Bear Wallow Wilderness when they walked away from their partially extinguished campfire. Their irresponsibility resulted in the Wallow Fire, which scorched 535,000 acres of forest. Arizonans continue to pay for their carelessness, and it’s a debt that will be passed to our children. Yes, we’ve seen signs of regrowth, but it’ll be another century before the area looks as it once did. It’s heartbreaking. But perhaps what’s even more upsetting is the fact that maybe, just maybe, the fire might not have happened at all had the Malboeufs understood and followed the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.

And now another wildfire is burning. So far, the Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon has charred 20,369 acres. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning: it’s hot and bone-dry in places. And there is the very real possibility that another wildfire could eclipse Wallow. So, what can we do? Below, Arizona Leave No Trace advocate and master educator Cindy de Leon Reilly talks about Leave No Trace and why it’s time to pay attention to these seven principles.

What is Leave No Trace, and how did these principles come to be?
Our forests have always been used by people for recreation, to get out and enjoy them for various reasons. With this came various destructive behaviors in the outdoors. Some examples are leaving trash behind, feeding the animals, chopping trees down and playing with fire. We were literally killing our forests. In the 1960s, the U.S. Forest Service noticed these impacts. As recreationists and visitors, we rarely saw these effects.

The start of the Leave No Trace movement was in the 1980s, with the Forest Service and its “No Trace” program that focused on wilderness ethics and travel and camping practices.  In 1990s, the Forest Service partnered with the National Outdoor Leadership School to create a hands-on, science-based training to start educating others in outdoor skills, which reinforced the “No Trace” standards. Eventually, other outdoor for-profit and nonprofit organizations and federal land-management agencies joined the efforts and created an independent nonprofit organization called Leave No Trace Inc. and its principles.

Over the years, Leave No Trace Inc. evolved into the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. The original principles evolved to include an extra principle, giving us seven total. The seven principles are:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Dispose of Waste Properly

Leave What You Find

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Respect Wildlife

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

 This year, there have been 488 wildfires in Arizona; all but 20 or so were human caused. What is the general public missing when it comes to LNT?
Honestly, the general public does not really think about their impact when they are outdoors.  Its almost like it does not apply to them. There are two kinds of users, backcountry and frontcountry. Backcountry users, such as backpackers, are those who go to isolated areas that are not accessible by vehicles.  Most of these users are aware of the Leave No Trace principles. They learn about the principles through outdoor retailers like REI, or outdoor entities like this publication. Also, the principles are typically posted on public-land websites and at offices where one obtains recreation permits.

Frontcountry means those areas easily accessible by vehicles. These are areas such as campgrounds and nearby trails. Even though the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics partners with the Forest Service and other similar entities, and gets the word out through campsite postings and education, many outdoor frontcountry users do not read or care to practice these principles because they are only thinking about having fun. I have seen many frontcountry users ignore the rules and the principles.  Of course, not all backcountry users follow the rules, either. Is a bonfire necessary to have the campfire ambience? Is a campfire really necessary?

This week is the anniversary of Wallow Fire. What goes through your mind as you look back on that fire, and how could have LNT prevented that blaze?
It is my understanding that two men, who left their fire unattended, started the fire.  Principle 7 of Leave No Trace is Minimize Campfire Impacts.  This principle includes the following:

·      Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking, and enjoy a candle lantern for light.

·      Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires.

·      Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.

·      Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely and scatter cool ashes. 

Had these men put out their fire completely before they left their site, then this devastating fire could have been prevented.  Even if a fire was in a campsite and within a fire ring, one should always make sure that their fire site is out cold.  Cold means that when you place your hand upon the fire site, you should feel no warmth.  Sometimes there are smoldering embers beneath the surface that we cannot see.  But if we feel for it, then a fire can be avoided.

According to the Incident Information System, the Slide Fire is human caused, though still under investigation. Long term, what do you think will happen if, moving forward, we do not implement LNT in our daily lives?
People, especially in Arizona, should understand that lands in our Southwest regions are very dry and overly sensitive to fire impacts.  Having a water shortage makes it worse.  If we do not implement Leave No Trace and its principles, the impacts of wildfire will happen more often. People will start fires anywhere, regardless of rules and conditions.  There is a common-sense attitude about the principles and education. This is to make things safer and better. Leave No Trace is not supposed to be an inconvenience. I believe that Leave No Trace and its principles have been minimizing the impact of fires in our region.

How can the public help spread the word about LNT?
Many organizations, public and private, are spreading the word about Leave No Trace. Upon learning the principles, share them and their importance.  Spreading the word is educating.

The Leave No Trace Center of Outdoor Ethics has been working hard with many organizations and corporations in supporting educational training and awareness workshops. Although the training may have a cost, depending on where you take it, from a master educator/trainer point of view, it’s worth learning and preserving the outdoors and practicing outdoor ethics.

As an Arizona advocate, I get the word out and help provide training and awareness workshops. The trainers are all volunteers and knowledgeable to give Leave No Trace.  They teach Leave No Trace through hands-on activities and games.

To learn and spread the work, request information from Leave No Trace. Contact your state advocate for options and opportunities to have Leave No Trace visit your troop or organization and help you implement Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace trainers are volunteers. We believe in Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.  Contact me to get you the information.

And not only learn it, but practice it and share it with your organization.  It may take a while to educate, but in the long run, it will be worth it. It is a worthwhile cause.

What are some simple things the public can do now that will help protect our outdoor spaces?
Throw your trash away in designated areas. This includes food items that will attract wildlife, a safety and health issue for both the animal and us. Additionally, make sure cigarettes are fully extinguished and properly thrown away.

Do not play with matches, lighters or fire. Some people are fascinated with fire. Teach them the dangers of fire and teach then how to properly use them for when they need to use this tool.

Store flammables away correctly as directed.

Cut tree branches away from flammable areas, such as those hanging over chimneys.

Keep in mind that if you have to build a fire that is not in an established fire ring, please consider the location of your fire. Typically, tree-root systems lay as far as the tree canopy.  Do not place your fire under the canopy area, since the root system may catch on fire and travel.  This is known as root fire and is also considered very dangerous.  After your fire, put it out cold, then dismantle it and leave no trace.

Be prepared, be aware of the rules and follow them. Rules are made to protect the area and us. There may be a fire restriction or water concerns. There may be sick or dangerous animal situations in the area. Rules are made to protect the environment and us.

Talk to me about the programs your organization offers.
We have volunteer trainers who are available to share Leave No Trace with you.  There is the REI PEAK program; you can borrow these kits from REI or purchase them online. Traveling Trainers provide workshops and attend events to share Leave No Trace at no cost; just make your request for their appearance online. They are a terrific addition to any event or visit. Backyard sessions are when a trainer comes over and talks about Leave No Trace to your group. You can talk to your state advocate about scheduling these opportunities. Leave No Trace has some grant opportunities to cover educational materials and training costs.  More information on this is online at www.LNT.org. Hot Spots is a conservation-related program. It is based on nominating locations in need of major improvements due to the destruction suffered.  Then Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics will work with others to bring the location back to its original natural state.

You offer LNT principles for kids; what tips can you offer parents who want to teach their children how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly?
Working with kids is fun! We work with many kid organizations, Scouts, schools and clubs for children. The key component to teaching children is to make it short and fun. Some of the fun is through games and hands-on activities.  Create an LNT Bingo game for a hike, create a cootie catcher with the principles, and teach them to be considerate to others and their environment, as you would expect them to be at school and home. Take the online awareness course, too.

There are many resources to help teach children Leave No Trace. For example, you can go to your local REI and borrow the PEAK program.  This program was created by REI, through their partnership with the center, to provide an outdoor ethics kit to teach kids Leave No Trace.  This kit contains cards with games and materials that can be used, making it fun to learn Leave No Trace. REI also offers free workshops, often hosted by the Traveling Trainers, where they love to teach with children and other organizations about Leave No Trace.

You can contact your Leave No Trace state advocate to arrange a visit or send you Leave No Trace material for your use.

For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/LNTAZ or http://lnt.org/get-involved/state/az.

You can also contact de Leon Reilly at: AZadvocate@lnt.org 

—Kathy Ritchie


Filed under Eco Issues, Mother Nature

#SlideFire Still at Zero Containment; Woods Canyon Lake Fire 40 Percent Contained

Photo by Wib Middleton

Photo by Wib Middleton

We’re seeing reports that the Slide Fire is still at zero containment, though there are more than 800 firefighters and personnel working to contain the blaze, which has already consumed West Fork.

Below is the latest from the Incident Information System:

Crews are continuing to hold the fire west of Highway 89A and south of Fry Canyon. Burnout operations have been conducted south of FSR 535 to create a larger fire break north east of the fire. Hotshot crews are also working to create fire line across the Pump House Wash near the 89A ‘switchbacks’ to control the east flank and prevent further spread east. Winds have become lighter today, with temperatures in the low 70s. As the day continues to warm, firefighters expect increased fire behavior, with the most active portion of the fire toward the northwest to Harding Point.

Heavy smoke is likely again in the greater Flagstaff area, Williams as well as Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. Residents and motorists are asked to use caution as visibility may be limited at times.

In other fire news, the Woods Canyon Lake Fire, which was first reported yesterday, has burned 88 acres and is 40 percent contained. According to the U.S. Forest Service, crews are battling spot fires on the north side, while bulldozers and hand lines have been created on the east and west sides of the fire. At this time, no injuries have been reported, and no structures or power lines are threatened. This fire was human-caused.


Filed under Eco Issues, News

Q&A: Spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service Talks Wildfires & Spending Cuts

Photograph by Jag Fergus

Photograph by Jag Fergus | Doce Fire

Arizona is still mourning the June 30 loss of 19 “hotshot” firefighters in the Yarnell Hill Fire, and while it will be a while before we know exactly what happened, we do know that the fire spread very quickly — much like the other recent wildfire in the Prescott area. That blaze, the Doce Fire northwest of Prescott, is now almost fully contained, as is Yarnell Hill. But if previous fire seasons are any indication, these won’t be the only dangerous wildfires Arizona faces this year.

As detailed in a recent Associated Press story, reduced federal funding for “fuels reduction” programs, such as prescribed burns, could make wildfires more severe and difficult to fight. Before the Yarnell Hill Fire broke out, we spoke with Cathie Schmidlin, a Southwestern Region spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, to learn how budget cuts could affect Arizona this fire season.

If more money had been spent on prevention, might Arizona’s recent wildfires have been less severe, or easier to control?

When wildfires occur, a lot of factors come into play, including weather, fuels conditions and terrain, so it isn’t really possible to speculate about [specific wildfires]. What we do know is that we have many examples of places, including Arizona, where reducing hazardous fuels has helped moderate fire behavior, made fires easier to control and made it easier for firefighters to protect lives, homes, and communities.

In 2006, the Forest Service initiated a program to evaluate the effectiveness of prescribed fire and mechanical treatments designed to reduce the risk of wildfire.  When a wildfire starts within, or burns into, a fuel-treatment area, an assessment is conducted to evaluate the resulting impacts on fire behavior and fire suppression actions.  In 2011, the Forest Service made the effectiveness assessment mandatory whenever a wildfire impacts a previously treated area.

Results show that, of almost 1,200 cases in the database, 93 percent of the fuel treatments were effective in changing fire behavior or helping with control of the wildfire; 56 percent of these fuel treatments were effective in helping keep wildfires less than 10 acres; and 61 percent were effective in helping keep wildfires less than 20 acres.

Because our capacity to treat fuels with prescribed fire and mechanical treatments is not adequate to restore all national-forest lands in need, it is especially important that wildfire itself be used as a tool, where possible, to restore forests. Appropriate wildfire response can include a range of actions from aggressive suppression to confinement, point protection and monitoring.

Are there areas of Arizona that could benefit from more prevention funding?

An emphasis, for more than a decade, in Arizona has been to treat hazardous fuels to reduce the risk of unwanted fire on communities, livelihoods, municipal watersheds and infrastructure. Treatments are focused in areas where risk is high, risk can be effectively mitigated, and communities are committed to implementing changes to become more fire-adapted.

Areas of focus in Arizona include the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (Coconino, Kaibab, Tonto, and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests), White Mountain Stewardship (Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests) Rim Communities (Tonto National Forest), Flagstaff Watershed Restoration Plan (Coconino National Forest), and Prescott Basin (Prescott National Forest).

We’ve had two gigantic wildfires (Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow) in the last decade. If funding cuts continue, could we be looking at another Wallow Fire somewhere else in Arizona in the near future?

The Wallow Fire actually was less severe due to treatments. The fire became easier to control in several areas that had been treated near Alpine, enhancing firefighters’ ability to protect property there.

We really can’t speculate about the impact of any future funding reductions. Reducing hazardous fuels is key to reducing the risk of extreme wildfires, and we will continue to do our best with the funds we have available.

The role and importance of fire in Southwestern forests is well-documented. Fire history (footprint of fire) directly affects fire severity, and it serves as a metric in anticipating future fire severity.

—Noah Austin, Associate Editor


Filed under Eco Issues