The Safford Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest expects to conduct Phase 2 of the Paddy’s River Prescribed Fire this week, with ignitions beginning May 3. The project area consists of National Forest System lands in the eastern portion of the Galiuro Mountains in southeastern Arizona, and is included in the Coronado’s Galiuro FireScape Project.
The project boundaries lie between High Creek on the south and Paddy’s River on the north. The project area contains the Paddy’s River drainage, Black Canyon, Wood Canyon, and High Creek including both wilderness and non-wilderness land in rugged terrain.
The District intends to complete Phase 2 of the burn to remove hazardous fuels and build a containment line along the eastern perimeter of the burn unit while conditions remain favorable. Fuel moisture conditions are reaching desired levels for the project to proceed as spring green-up is fading.
Approximately 3,000 acres are planned for this phase of the burn. Vegetation includes semi-desert grassland, mesquite, cat claw, oak, juniper, cypress, and mixed conifers such as ponderosa pine, apache pine and Douglas Fir between the elevations of 4,500 feet to 7,549 feet above sea level. Burning may continue for three to five days, with ignitions occurring as fuel and weather conditions become suitable.
Prescribed fires are among the most effective tools available to resource managers to restore fire-adapted ecosystems. Fire has played an important ecological role in the history of the grassland and woodland ecosystems of southeastern Arizona. Regular intervals of naturally-occurring fire restricted the growth of shrubs in grasslands, thinned forests of fire-intolerant trees, increased stream flows, and renewed wildlife habitat. A decrease in the frequency of natural fire has resulted in areas of dense, overgrown vegetation and the accumulation of fuel available for wildfires.
Detailed planning is done in preparation for each prescribed fire, with specific objectives to be met. The Burn Plan for each project contains sections on safety, complexity analysis, description of the physical area and vegetation types, objectives, prescription parameters, scheduling, pre-burn considerations and weather, organization and equipment, communications, ignition plan, holding plan, contingency plan, smoke management, monitoring, and post-fire considerations. Before prescribed fires are ignited, conditions such as temperature, relative humidity, fuel moisture, predicted wind speed and direction, and other factors must be within the prescription parameters described in the Burn Plan. Should conditions fall outside of prescriptive parameters, the project will not proceed. A “Prescribed Fire Go/No-Go Checklist” and test fire are completed before ignition takes place.
The Paddy’s River Prescribed Fire ecosystems differ from those recently burned during the Sawmill Fire due to a variety of factors. The prescribed fire burn unit is further north and higher in elevation than the landscape of the Sawmill Fire, and contains different species of grasses and other vegetation. In the lower-elevation grasslands, fine fuels (grasses and fine forbs and shrubs) are greening up and favor slower, low-intensity fire. With increasing elevation the grassland transitions to a brushy fuel type lacking an understory of fine fuels to carry fire, also favoring lower-intensity burning. The entire burn unit is accessible to fire engines and other motorized vehicles.
Resources assigned to the project include two fire engines with crews to conduct the burn, and two fire engines and a hotshot crew as contingency resources to check fire growth should it burn more aggressively than expected. One helicopter is also assigned, which may perform aerial ignitions and/or suppression operations.
Paddy's River Prescribed Fire Resource Objectives:
- Improve overall ecosystem conditions to benefit wildlife habitat, range, and watershed outside of the wilderness and reduction of unnatural buildup of fuels in the wilderness which minimizes opportunities to manage natural fire and reduce the risk for fire to threaten values at risk within and adjacent to the wilderness.
- The long-term objective of this action is to restore historic native vegetation conditions so that naturally occurring, low-intensity fire will prevail.
- Reduce threats to firefighter and public safety as well as reduce costs and resource damage, from future wildfires, by maintaining fuel conditions for low risk of extreme fire behavior and high intensity fire.
An area closure will be in effect as this phase of the burn is conducted. (See attached area closure map.)
Smoke will be visible periodically from Sulphur Springs Valley and Bonita, Willcox, Benson, San Manuel, Klondyke and surrounding areas throughout the duration of the project. Following active burning, smoke may be visible for days to weeks resulting from hot areas within the interior of the burn area.
This work is being done as part of a larger project covering 14,000 acres. Phase 1 of the burn was completed in March, and treated the western portions of the burn unit. Burning on the larger unit may occur sporadically through July 15, 2017, as conditions become favorable.
For further information please contact the Safford Ranger District Office at (928) 428-4150 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The office is closed weekends and federal holidays.