The  Arizona Elk Society toured many of the areas effected by the Wallow fire and  helped by providing funding  through the AZGFD HPC program.

Without Fuel Treatments: ‘Many of the Houses Would Have Caught Fire and Burned to the Ground’

The Wallow Fire starts on Sunday, May 29, 2011. On the fire’s first and second day—and for three of the next five days—“Red Flag” (windy and dry) conditions thrive. By the morning of the fire’s sixth day—June 2—the Wallow Fire has burned 40,000 acres—almost 63 square miles. The fire has now moved north to the junction of Forest Roads 26 and 24. Adding to the severe intensity of the fire’s spread, the winds have increased and relative humidity has decreased.

By noon on June 2, fire behavior becomes even more intense as the Wallow Fire makes an extended “crown fire” charge toward the community of Alpine, Arizona. Within three hours, this crown fire crests the ridge above Alpine. The blaze quickly moves downslope toward numerous homes located along the southwest outskirts of town.

Soon, this crown fire threatening these Alpine homes starts showering embers as far as one mile downwind—igniting numerous spot fires out ahead of the main fire.

Fuel Treatment Units Slow the Wallow Fire – Allow Firefighters to Safely Attack

As the main fire enters the ½ mile-wide White Mountain Stewardship Fuel Treatment units located above Alpine, the blaze drops from up in the tree crowns down to the surface level. The fire’s rate-of-spread dramatically slows. Thanks to the influence of these previously developed treatment units—implementedbeginning in 2004—flame lengths are now low enough to allow firefighters to safely attack the fire and protect homes and property.

How Fuel Treatments Saved Homes from the Wallow Fire

“When the fire came over the ridge toward Alpine it sounded like a freight
train. The smoke column was bent over making it difficult to see. Without
the fuel treatment effects of reducing flame lengths and defensible space
around most houses, we would have had to pull back our firefighters. Many
of the houses would have caught fire and burned to the ground.”
Jim Aylor, Fire Management Officer
Alpine Fire District

Engines and crews successfully extinguish the spot fires. To further protect residents’ houses, these firefighters also conduct low-intensity “firing operations” from roadways and other fuel breaks. These aggressive firefighting suppression actions continue throughout the evening—successfully halting the spread of the Wallow Fire into the community of Alpine. In fact, all of this community’s structures—but one—are saved from the fire’s attack. (Actually, this single structure burned several days later when an ember—most likely transported downwind during the June 2 crown fire run—smoldered for several days before flaring up.)

Even though they experienced ember showers and low-intensity surface fires, many of the other Alpine structures that survived the Wallow Fire did so because of these prior fuel treatments, as well as “Firewise” construction and landscaping completed by the land owners. There’s no question that these previous fuel reduction actions allowed the firefighters to safely and aggressively fight the Wallow Fire.

The entire report can be found at ElkTracks, the Arizona Elk Society’s Blog.

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