GC Stories of the Year<br>No. 1: Drought impacts area

When looking back at 2002, dozens of stories published in the Grand Canyon News had some sort of connection to the drought.

These two Grand Canyon National Park visitors hold up an umbrella to stay out of the rain. Local residents did not see enough rain, however, as the area went through another summer drought this past year.

The bone-dry conditions forced Kaibab National Forest to implement closures. Grand Canyon National Park and the forest needed to enforce various fire restrictions. Extra resources were brought in if a wildfire did happen to break out.

By mid-May, both the forest and park were in extreme fire conditions. In early June, the Kaibab closed portions of the forest for fear of a wildland fire start.

Wild animals began to appear in the village and Tusayan. Coyotes were now a common sight, looking for food and water. Reports of vehicle collisions with deer and elk began to increase. Bark beetles began to infest trees.

Back in May, the forest, park and Tusayan Fire Department gathered for a community meeting to talk about the upcoming fire season. The Grand Canyon area escaped any serious wildfire threats, which was not the case in places like the Mogollon Rim and Prescott.

"Everyone has concerns that we’ll have a major fire," said Jackie Denk, who serves as fire information officer for Kaibab National Forest and has been working vigorously with the media to get the word out about fire safety.

Robbie Evans, Tusayan Fire Department chief, said these are the worst conditions he’s ever seen.

"Everybody is scared to death," Evans said. "I’ve been here 12 years and I’ve never seen the rain tank that low. Game and Fish has been hauling water for two months."

Thirty minutes into the May open house, there was quiet applause from the 10 or so officials in attendance when a cloud burst created a short rainstorm. But people were soon shaking their heads as the rain stopped after only a few minutes.

Later in May, the morning after television stations aired frightening images of a wildland fire near Prescott, the Southwest Area Management Team was headed to the area to join the fight. Grand Canyon National Park’s Dan Oltrogge, Donna Nemeth and Craig Letz serve on the multi-agency team, along with several others from Kaibab National Forest out of Williams.

By June, residents were talking about what they would need to do if a fire threatened the South Rim. The National Park Service and other agencies got together to finalize an evacuation plan if the need should arise.

"If we call for an evacuation, it will be mandatory, we don’t do voluntary," said Sherrie Collins, deputy chief ranger, adding that if the situation occurred "it will be a serious public safety issue."

In late June, local firefighters were on the scene of the Rodeo-Chediski fire. The Tusayan Fire Department sent five of its crew to the blaze. Fire chief Robbie Evans along with Jason Clark, John Venn, Robert Meza and Pat Barker responded to a request to help fight the fire in the Overgaard area.

The Southwest Area Incident Management Team also joined the fight against the Rodeo-Chediski fire after leaving a blaze in New Mexico.

People welcomed monsoon season in July and there was promise of relief early on with a few thunderstorms. But the dry conditions triumphed and monsoonal rains were lighter compared to past years.

Still, there was enough rain for the forest to reopen to the public in mid-July. About that same time, the park lifted restrictions.

The drought impacted everyone in the community in some fashion. It will be a summer to remember, although many may want to forget.

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