The Woodbury fire, which was first reported June 8, is now 100% contained. There is still smoke and active fire moving inside the perimeter consuming pockets of unburned fuel, and local fire personnel remain in place to monitor the burn. The threat of the fire spreading any further, however, is minimal. Now dubbed the 5th largest fire in the state’s history, Woodbury consumed 123,875 acres.
For the last three weeks, members of the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team have been working in the Superstition Wilderness, taking their turn in combating the fire – but these are different sorts of heroes. They are scientists and specialists: hydrologists, geologists, soil scientists, road engineers, botanists, biologists, archaeologists, recreation and trails specialists and geographic information specialists – and they are here because the potential dangers of wildfires don’t end when the smoke clears. Erosion, landslides, debris flows, flooding and altered water quality are just a few of the potential and often long-lasting after-effects of the “burn scar” left in the fire’s wake.
It is the job of the BAER team to rapidly evaluate the burn area and prescribe emergency stabilization measures to minimize threats to critical “values”– human life, property and cultural and natural resources such as the water quality of lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
Actions taken by the team could include mulching, seeding, installation of erosion and water run-off control structures, removing safety hazards or preventing the spread of invasive weeds.
As of July 19, the Woodbury BAER team activities include:
- June 30: Archaeologists determined that the cliff dwellings at Rogers Canyon are unharmed.
- July 2: Botanists identified invasive plant populations that may impact the burn area.
- July 4: The BAER team completed field data collection and began the modeling process to analyze the data.
- July 6: The BAER team completed a values-at-risk assessment, which will determine and prioritize work within the fire area’s fifteen sub-watersheds.
- July 7: The team’s Soil Burn Severity (SBS) map was released: Burn severity can vary across the fire area depending on topography, weather conditions, fuel types and rate of fire spread. When organic materials on the ground and within the soil structure burn hot and slow, they form a layer on the surface and within the soil, preventing water from being easily absorbed. As a result, runoff increases, and downstream erosion, flooding and debris flows are likely to occur.
- Within the Woodbury fire, 538 acres burned at a high severity, 29,452 at a moderate severity, 65,735 acres at a low severity and 28,149 acres at very low to unburned.
- July 10-18: Daily weather assessments advised residents and visitors downstream from the burn area to, “Please be alert and stay aware of changing weather conditions… Flash flooding can occur within minutes of a heavy rainfall.”
- July 18: The BAER team completed their assessment and provided a report to Tonto National Forest administrators.
According to reports on Inciweb, National Forest agency officials met during the week of July 15 to review the report. Although information from this meeting was not available at the time of printing, indications are that a more definitive timeline for reopening Highway 88/Apache Trail should be one of the outcomes.