Arizona’s dangerous fire season flamed on into the weekend with three major fires burning and fuels so dry they’re producing “extreme” fire behavior.
The Telegraph and Mescal fires in southern Gila County and on the San Carlos Apache Reservation have now consumed more than 150,000 acres, forcing multiple evacuations and eluding the best efforts of 1,500 firefighters and a small air force to bring the fires under control.
Meanwhile, the Slate Fire 23 miles northwest of Flagstaff has grown to 5,000 acres, with 150 firefighters still unable to gain control. The fire has closed portions of Highway 180 due to smoke and the needs of the fire crews.
The 400-acre Hobo Fire northeast of Morenci in the Clifton Ranger District also remains uncontainable. A lightning strike sparked the fire about 13 miles west of Alma, New Mexico.
Other fires throughout Arizona have been largely contained, including the 500-acre Sam Fire north of Bylas, the 3,500-acre McDonald Tank Fire on the Fort Apache Reservation and the 3,000-acre Boggy Creek Fire 20 miles northwest of Hannigan Meadows.
The Apache Sitgreaves National Forest has shifted to Stage 2 fire restrictions, which bans campfires, smoking, target shooting and other risky activities in the forest. Forests throughout the state are weighing when to close, given the extreme fire danger posed by the “extreme” drought gripping most of the state.
The US Weather Service issued a red-flag fire warning due to hot, dry, windy conditions across most of northern Arizona on Thursday, mostly the third of the state north of Window Rock. The extreme fire conditions are expected to continue until the onset of the monsoon — likely in mid-July. The National Weather Service is predicting a hotter than normal monsoon season, but now says the odds of normal rainfall stands at just 50-50. Eastern Arizona will likely have a drier than normal monsoon, according to the latest predictions.
Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency due to the spread of the Mescal and Telegraph fires, which makes the state eligible for some $400,000 in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The human-caused Mescal and Telegraph fires are both burning south of Highway 70 between Peridot and Superior in southern Gila County and have threatened Globe, Claypool and Miami, making national news. The fires are showing “extreme” behavior with fire conditions in vulnerable territory. The drought is the worst the state has seen in 1,000 years, according to tree ring data. Fuels have a lower moisture content than seen during fire seasons that spawned recent megafires like the Wallow and the Rodeo Chedeski fires.
Forest Service updates call the fires “aggressive,” “erratic” and “extreme.” The fuels — grass, manzanita and oak brush in the lower elevations, juniper and pinyon trees in the higher — burn intensely with “wind-driven runs.”
When they can, firefighting crews use back burns and roads to create a fire line to stop the spread. So far, the Telegraph Fire has destroyed five structures.
On the sixth day of the 84,000-acre Telegraph Fire (June 10), burning south of Superior, some 900 firefighters continued to scout for natural barriers, roads, old fire lines and mine pits “they can tie together to stop the fire spread.”
So far, firefighters have controlled 34% of the perimeter.
But command recognized “the fire is expected to be active and aggressive, driven by gusty winds that could cause active runs to the northeast.”
At one point, the fire raged only 2½ miles from Darrell Stubbs’ home in Globe.
“Last night, I sat on my porch and watch the fire travel and burn up a lot of country I know,” he said on his Facebook page.
He knows what firefighters face, since he fought the deadly 1990 Dude Fire in Payson.
“Firefighters put their lives on the line, so we need to make sure that we appreciate them,” he said remembering the six Dude Fire firefighters who died as well as the 19 killed by the Yarnell Hill Fire.
“Thank you for putting your life on the line to protect us,” he said.
Former Globe resident Melly Jackson “felt so powerless” as she watched the Telegraph Fire creep up on the town.
“So many people I care about are in this one place, and most of them have not, or cannot, leave because of stubbornness or work demands,” she said.
She asked for many prayers but ended with this request: “Please pray the fires stop before they destroy the one place that has been the foundation and root of everything we have grown from. Please pray for a miracle.”
The same night, Justin Lovett posted shots of his view of the Telegraph Fire in Miami.
He expressed his “thoughts and prayers to those who had to evacuate last night.”
Parts of Miami evacuated, but were allowed to return the next morning. The Gila County Sheriff’s Office has returned Superior to “ready” status. Some who evacuated had only 15 minutes to get out of their homes.
While the Telegraph Fire has only 34% containment, carefully planned burnout operations have gotten “ahead of the fast-moving northeast edge of the fire” to save communities such as Claypool, wrote officials.
The 70,000-acre Mescal Fire, however, burning in remote and rugged country “continues to cause challenges to supporting firefighting operations” wrote incident command. As of Thursday, the 610 firefighters had the blaze 23% contained, according to the update on Inciweb.
This fire caused the evacuation of parts of the San Carlos Reservation and the community of East El Capitan. However, fire crews allowed San Carlos residents to return home on Tuesday.
Fire crews hope to keep the Mescal Fire from jumping Highway 70 with firebreaks and burnout operations.
No structures had burned as of June 10.