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Prescribed Fire in Grand Canyon National Park Now Out of Control


Best laid plans literally have gone up in flames in Grand Canyon National Park, where a prescribed fire proposed to burn 6,200 acres on the North Rim has blown out of control.

As of this afternoon the Walla Valley Fire was burning across 225 acres and was just 15 percent contained. It's located about 9 miles west of the North Rim's developed area.

The fire, which is burning in Ponderosa pine and Gamble oak, is being fought by about 100 firefighters who are being supported by four fire engines, one bulldozer, and two helicopters.

Park crews started the fire June 21 as a prescribed burn. Park officials say modeling and the behavior of a small test fire indicated that conditions were appropriate to burn. However, the very next day officials decided to halt the fire as spot fires were being started by embers blowing beyond fire lines. Unfortunately, that was no easy task.

"All spot fires were suppressed, and firefighters began to focus their efforts on holding the fire within the burn unit and checking the spread of a portion of the fire that was active below the rim," the park reported on Thursday. "While efforts to hold the fire below the rim have been successful, the fire’s edge is now approaching thicker, denser fuels where it will become much more difficult for fire fighters to continue successful holding operations. As a result, fire managers made the decision to convert the Walla Valley Fire from a prescribed fire to a wildfire and have begun suppression operations."

Interestingly, the park's web site notes that fire danger in the park is "high" and that visitor should "be cautious when dealing with possible sources of ignition."


It's deja vu all over again Yogi. I guess nothing of substance was culled from the last poorly executed "controlled burn" that torched the area in and around Powell Plateau some years back. Maybe they should only let these fire "experts" play with their matches from November to March.

Then there was the "Outlet Fire" that closed the Park for quite some time in about 2001. It eventually burned all the way from west of the Lodge to Point Imperial and onto Cape Royal and several hundred acres of National Forest lands in the Saddle Mountain area. The Bridger Fire was a lightning strike on the Park which burned about 50,000 ares of USFS lands. They go all the way back to 1960 and the Saddle Fire which began as a lightning strike near Point Imperial and burned 5,600 acres of National Forest. Most of these fires escape right around June 21st, but no one seems to be paying attention when they leave the office, torch in hand. There have been other "escapes" on the North Rim, many of which never burned all the way to the Forest Service. There have also been many on the South Rim that have threatened the housing area and Tusayan over the years. I doubt that there is aanother National Park with such a history of escaped prescribed fires and escaped lightning fires. Maybe November to March would be a pretty good start to keep them out of trouble. Although as a "Learning Organization" no one gets in trouble any more.

With regards to GRCA having been in "high fire danger" when the prescribed fire was ignited ...when planning prescribed fires, in order to attain the desired flame length or heat/unit area that is needed so as to achieve the desired results, it is often necessary to implement the prescription when the fire danger is high. If, as "Lone Hiiker" suggests, "...they (should) only let (these) fire "experts" play with their matches from November to March.", very little in terms of fuels management could be done during winter conditions.

NOTE: My comments are based on the knowledge/skills/abilities that I gained during more than 35 years of service with the NPS: the majority of those years having been spent in Wildland Fire Management.

Fire Management is and will be first and foremost a matter of trial and error. There is nothing wrong with a fire going beyond what was planned - if the safety zones were set according to prior experiences. Here it seems to work. A prescribed fire became to powerful, went beyond the targeted area and now gets suppressed.

Of course it would be nice, if no fire "management" was necessary, but the fuel levels are way to high from previous (non-) management in some areas and should be burned down over time and under as much control as possible. But man can only control so much of the forces of nature. Fire is a largely unpredictable force.

Evidently a bit of sarcasm can be lost on some folks.

Yes, the undergrowth that clogs the forest floor is required to be removed, whether by nature's hand or by the attempts of man to "regulate" the environment. Funny thing is that until man decided he knew better of ecological concerns that did Nature, no prescribed burns were required at all. Nature took it's course, sometimes more violently or extremely than we would prefer but the task was accomplished over time. Thick undergrowth is what encourages extreme fire events. The less we allow Nature to burn, the more intense the resulting "natural" events will be. No genius or advanced degree required to reach that conclusion.

Forests will burn, just as waterways will flood, sands will shift and shorelines will erode. Maybe am alternative solution is to limit or restrict encroachment such that these situations aren't immediately deemed hazardous to the burgeoning local populations.

For all we like to believe we are worth, there is no direct correlation between years of experience and expertise. There are numerous instances, and my chosen field of scientific research is not immune to this phenomenon, where years of experimentation and mountains of data are misinterpreted, thereby rendering all the "experience" in the world to yield flawed theories. In short, just because we've been prone to following a certain "rational" line of thought for years doesn't mean it's the correct path upon which to continue practicing.

What. again? A prescribed fire in 2004 on the south rim quickly burned out of control and all the way to the rim. It killed trees over many acres at the south entrance road/Desert View junction and will not recover in our lifetime. The man in charge of prescribed fires for Grand Canyon was given award earlier this year for the quality of his work.

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