Friday, September 14, 2012

Bradshaw Mountain Fire Aftermath

We have been asked if we have any photographs from the aftermath of the fire in the Bradshaws.
Yes and Scott Poppenburger wrote an excellent "after fire" report.

May 2012 brought a significant habitat altering event to Bradshaw Mountain Country in the form of a massive wildfire now know as the Gladiator Fire.  The fire was ignited May 13 by a residential structure fire that escaped containment in the mountain top community of Crown King. 

                                              House where fire started. 

The fire received its prophetic name from the residential road on which it originated.  After ignition the fire rapidly expanded fed by a perfect storm of abundant fuel, low humidity and high winds. 

 It eventually consumed over 16 thousand acres, most of which was thick, decadent chaparral on very steep slopes.  

Wild Land firefighting crews and aircraft from many agencies were deployed to suppress the fire and to protect life and property.  Approximately 1500 firefighters battled the blaze for more than two weeks.  Costs of fighting the blaze are estimated at over 6 million dollars.  The fire ultimately burned a large area north of Crown King and Towers Mountain almost to Battle Flat. 

A home near Crown King saved by slurry. 

Why did this fire grow so large and burn so intensely? Many plant communities in the central Arizona highlands are fire adapted systems.  That means they function best when exposed to low intensity burning that occurs once every 7-10 years or so.  These cool fires keep fuel buildup to a minimum and maintain a more open mosaic of adult plants. 

 Many decades of aggressive fire suppression has lead to massive fuel loads and over grown, impenetrable chaparral.  These overgrown areas diminish plant and animal species diversity and become a time bomb waiting to explode. 

Cicada covered with slurry. 
What does this fire mean for the Bradshaws?  In the short term wildlife that could escape the blaze will be displaced and have to move into unburned areas.

  Areas that burned at high intensity levels will take a year or two to recover and top soils will be at risk of serious erosion during large monsoon flood events.  Looking longer term burns like the Gladiator Fire cause woody browse species like Mountain Mahogany and Cliff Rose to regenerate in healthy form that is highly palatable to species like Mule Deer and other herbivores. 

 Plant overcrowding is eliminated allowing a greater diversity of species to germinate and re-colonize burned areas.  This plant diversity then provides quality habitat for a broad range of wildlife that depend on them as well. 

The Bradshaws have had good monsoon rain this summer. The burned areas will recover quickly.