Monsoon lightning ignites multiple fires near North Rim

Fire managers explain the role of prescribed burns in keeping lightning-caused fires in check

The Pine Hollow Fire on the North Kaibab National Forest was ignited by lightning during monsoon storms July 19. The fire has burned around 500 acres so far.

David Hercher/Kaibab National Forest

The Pine Hollow Fire on the North Kaibab National Forest was ignited by lightning during monsoon storms July 19. The fire has burned around 500 acres so far.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Within the past week, North Zone fire personnel consisting of firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service have responded jointly to multiple lightning-caused wildfires located on both the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and adjacent North Kaibab Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest.

Lightning-caused wildfires are a common occurrence during the early monsoon season (typically late-June through late-July). Of the five fires sparked by monsoonal storms this week, two are being suppressed and three are being monitored. 

Monitoring a wildfire is a fire management tactic used by fire managers when strategizing an incident response, and contributing factors that help steer this decision-making process includes predicted fire behavior.

“Each of these fires has received significant monsoonal moisture and are predicted to receive even more throughout the next week,” said North Zone Fire Management Officer Ed Hiatt. “This ebb and flow of monsoonal moisture allows us the necessary time to identify values at risk, assess potential planning area boundaries and gather other intelligence necessary to make sound tactical decisions so that we are ready to respond appropriately once fire activity dictates.”

There are three fires currently in monitor status. The Haunted wildfire, which is burning in ponderosa pines located at the Outlet Peninsula on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The fire is approximately 3 acres in size.

The Pine Hollow wildfire is burning in ponderosa pine fuel type and debris left from the Pipeline Fire of 2009 west of Big Springs Field Station in the vicinity of Little Mountain. It has expanded to around 30 acres.

The Crescent wildfire is burning north of the historic Kanabownits Lookout Tower and is about 3 acres in size.

In a recent forum addressing the fire ecosysytem of the Coconino Plateau, area fire managers and ecology professors outlined why prescribed burns are necessary to keep such fires at bay.

Dr. Andi Thode, professor of forestry at Northern Arizona University, said the tree density of the Kaibab National Forest has increased to unmanagable levels —from about 25 trees per acres in the 1920s to more than 1,000 per acre 70 years later. The increased density causes fires to burn hotter and faster, she said. Managing fuel loads through prescribed burns reduces the chance of a catastrophic wildfire breakout.

Coconino County Forest Supervisor Laura Jo West said residents have complained about smoke and inconvenience from prescribed burns, but she said the controlled ignition burns are necessary to reduce fuels, especially near areas that could threaten homes or community safety.

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