Friday, July 21, 2017

After the Frye Fire...

We have lost the opportunity this last month to get out and enjoy the cool mountain temperatures and beauty of the forest along with the social interactions we share while hiking due to the Frye Fire.  The total impact of the fire on hiking in the Pinalenos is still unknown.  We can assume that many trails will be closed for at least the next year just as they were following the Nuttal Complex Fire in 2004.  But we also know we will get access to portions of the mountain once the fire is 100% contained and ADOT and the USFS have cleaned up monsoon and fire debris on Swift Tail (Highway 366) and in recreation areas.

In the upcoming year as hikers and recreationists return to the mountains, we must take special care while visiting areas affected by wildfires.  Burned areas present a number of hazards that either did not exist prior to the fire or are increased by the effects of the fire.  These hazardous conditions may be present for several years after a fire.  Be very aware of your surroundings and pay attention to possible safety hazards. 

In severely burned areas, dead plant roots will decompose over the years.  As they do, they will cease to hold the soil in place allowing the soil and rock to shift and move under foot. 

Animals that live in the burn area are often displaced and may appear confused or act odd as they come back into their habitat.  Be cautious when encountering any animal.

Be on the lookout for trees that appear dead.  Fire can burn and weaken the root systems of trees.  Even in a light wind, trees may fall.  When they do, they can impact an area up to 2x the tree's height.  Without needles, these trees provide no warning because they make little or no sound.  Everyone in a hiking party should keep an eye on the trees above.  Give yourself some extra room when choosing a route and especially where you choose to rest.  Be extra careful of trees after rain.  Burned tree stumps can create obvious large holes.  In many cases, the hole may actually be bigger than you think.  Fire may have burned roots leaving tunnels where solid wood used to be.  Your body or vehicle weight may cause a tunnel to collapse under you.  And again, especially after rain.

Rain is a welcomed thing in the Southwest, but problems can arise because of this wonderful resource, water.  The wild fires have left burn areas devoid of vegetation and ground cover.  This makes these areas more susceptible to flooding and mudslides with even the slightest bit of precipitation.  Rainfall of even 1/4 inch can cause flash flooding and mudslides.  Conditions can quickly change, wiping out a trail and trapping a hiker.
In the event of a storm, hikers should avoid any natural drainages, such as creeks or stream beds.  Seek higher ground to avoid potential flooding.  If you should become trapped, stay put and use a signaling device to attract attention.

We are looking forward to exploring the new conditions we will find when we return to the mountain, but we will always put hikers' safety at the forefront of our activities.