Wildfires destroy vast forested areas in Arizona designated recreational destinations. Tourists and residents who grow up in, near and around this wondrous land use these areas for camping, fishing and vacationing. Anyone who has spent time in the forests of Arizona appreciates the beauty of these natural settings. The peace and enjoyment bring many residents and out-of-staters back year after year. However, Arizona wildfires endanger the state forests every year.
Tourism for Arizona is a recreational boon when the weather is good and summer rains are timely. The persistent drought conditions, however, have been taking their toll for several years. The Rodeo-Chediski Fire, the Wallow Fire, the Monument Hill Fire and the Yarnell Hill Fire are all examples of devastating loss for the state and its people.
The San Juan Fire has laid waste to almost eight square miles near Vernon in the eastern portion of the White Mountains. It is a human caused fire and there is no percentage of control at this time. Those who follow the fires from information released to the public by incident commanders always wait for the percentage numbers of a fire in the announcement. It gives them a gauge for understanding how successful the firefighters are in their efforts.
Summer home communities have been under mandatory evacuation since the fire, near the New Mexico border, was reported around noon on Thursday. There have been no reports of injuries, new evacuations or notices of fleeing the area issued. Though wildfires in Arizona endanger the forest, people, homes and property are always highest on the list of things to protect.
Up to this point, the fire seems to be at a standstill and various crews have gotten a smidgen of control with retardant drops and burnout operations. Burnout operations consist of starting fires ahead of the blaze, so when the fire arrives, the fuel has already been spent and the fire has nowhere to go. Pesky winds have stymied efforts as they contort and dance around whipping flames into new areas, although the winds slowed somewhat late Friday and were relatively calm on Saturday.
Matt Reidy, Incident Commander for the San Juan Fire gave a report to a resident packed community meeting Saturday night. He stated that recent forest-thinning work in the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest had helped firefighters in their efforts. He also listed a total of 37 summer homes in the Whiting, Carlock Ranch, and Red Cabin Ranch homestead areas as remaining evacuated for safety reasons. More than 90 structures, including homes, barns and sheds are still threatened.
The Southwest Area Incident Management Team spokesmen, Bill Morse, also provided some input at the meeting. Heavy fuel sources on the west side of the fire are being targeted by fire crews, though the terrain is rough, winds are pushing away from the western flank, and that is helpful. Morse said that nature had given them a break and winds are likely to be calm Sunday, however, dry lightning storms have been predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Friday, winds caused the fire to jump the fire-line and it has remained at zero containment. Crews on the front lines, however, are confident the east and south flanks will be contained, with plans to attack the San Juan on the northeast side, as it has been spreading in that direction.
A helicopter, five heavy air tankers, 12 engines and nine Hotshot Crews are currently fighting the fire in the national forest and on part of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. The dry, fuel laden forests and rainless conditions have caused these recreational areas of Arizona to be closed until further notice. Wildfires endanger the forest and threaten to curtail the Arizona tourist industry.
By Andy Towle