When wildfires began around Flagstaff last month, local residents and businesses dropped everything and pitched in to help. The United Way of Northern Arizona served as a go-to place for donations and saw an outpouring of support.
Food and drinks were the most popular offerings for the more than 900 firefighters. Some restaurant employees and owners, like Salsa Brava’s John Conley, worked tirelessly preparing meals for those on the front lines. Members of Flagstaff’s Archuleta family stayed up all night making breakfast burritos for the crews. People offered help at the Emergency Evacuation Center set up at Mount Elden Middle School. Many community members shared the sentiment: it’s the least we can do.
Little America General Manager Fred Reece said his primary feeling is gratitude to the firefighters. They pounced on the Hardy Fire, which broke out in the city limits not far from the hotel and truck stop. After the initial attack on the fire, Reece and his staff offered assistance to firefighters, including box lunches, showers and a place to rest.
But Little America’s most valuable contribution happened long before the fire, in the thinning done on the hotel’s acreage.
Reece recognizes that the work done with the help of city fuel management workers brought immeasurable rewards. “It was a good thing, because if we hadn’t thinned our forests, it would have definitely put our hotel in jeopardy as well as other residences,” he said. Little America was evacuated during the Hardy Fire, as were 170 nearby homes. No structures were lost.
Paul Summerfelt, the Flagstaff Fire Department’s fuel management officer, says Little America owns more than 200 acres affected by the nearly 300-acre fire, about half of which had been treated. “The area that was not thinned, we’re estimating it [the fire] killed 90 percent of the trees,” said Summerfelt. “The area that had been thinned lost far, far less.”
Another business partner in fighting the Hardy Fire was the Continental Country Club, an area that could have been greatly affected had the fire expanded. General Manager John Malin says they kept traffic away while helicopters accessed water from Lake Elaine on the Aspen Valley Golf Course. “It’s the largest and deepest lake in Flagstaff, built with fire suppression in mind,” said Malin. He estimates helicopters were getting water from the lake about every seven minutes. Malin takes pride in a comment from Flagstaff Fire Chief Mike Iacona, who told him that two things helped extinguish the Hardy Fire: thinning and Lake Elaine’s proximity to the blaze. About 55,000 gallons of water were transported from the lake to the fire.
APS, Arizona Public Service, contributed on the prevention side. Year round, APS workers thin the trees around power lines in an effort to protect infrastructure and reduce fire danger. Three transmission lines cut right through the middle of the Hardy Fire. Kent Bushman is an APS forestry section leader. “The idea is that if a fire comes through, by having the vegetation out of there, the fire will drop down and then burn under the line and protect the electrical system,” said Bushman. The clearings also help firefighters by giving them an area to lay dozer lines, he added, saying APS has cleared hundreds of acres in Northern Arizona.
As soon as word of the Hardy Fire got out, fire departments from all over Arizona began send- ing resources. Forest Service Hot Shot Crews were already in the region fighting the Eagle Rock Fire near Williams.
The day after the Hardy Fire started, the Schultz fire ignited, burning about 15,000 acres on the San Francisco Peaks over the course of a week. While it was helpful to have so many firefighting resources already in the region, it soon became clear the Schultz Fire was in a class of its own, burning hot and fast through ponderosa pine.
Before long, more than 900 firefighters from different states worked on the fire under an Inter- agency Incident Management Team, comprised of the nation’s heavy hitting firefighting experts. Additional aircraft was called in, although the tankers were grounded during the first few days with especially gusty winds.
A smaller number of crews remain on the mountain at press time, watching for hot spots and maintaining fire lines. The area remains closed to recreationists with the closure being strictly enforced. Information on closures and fire restrictions is available at http://www.fs.fed. us/r3/coconino.
As Flagstaff made headlines and 1,000 homes were evacuated, many people opened their hearts and homes, doing what they could do help the displaced residents and their animals. Since evacuation orders were lifted and the number of firefighting crews have been gradually reduced, many are remembering the community’s reaction to the emergency. When calls for help were issued by the United Way of Northern Arizona, their phones rang off the hook, said President and CEO Kerry Blume. “There was an outpouring of caring and gener- osity,” she said, saying even people visiting the area from other places offered to help. FBN
For more information on the United Way of Northern Arizona: www.nazunitedway.org.