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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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6/4/2009 11:10:00 PM
Forest managers allow wildfire to burn to thin trees
Prescott National Forest/Courtesy photo
The Hyde Fire is burning about two miles south of Hyde Mountain, which is visible in the background. This photo shows how sparse the vegetation is, which is one reason why the Forest Service is managing versus suppressing it.
Prescott National Forest/Courtesy photo

The Hyde Fire is burning about two miles south of Hyde Mountain, which is visible in the background. This photo shows how sparse the vegetation is, which is one reason why the Forest Service is managing versus suppressing it.

Likely for the first time, Prescott National Forest officials are letting a wildfire burn outside of a wilderness area.

Relatively new federal regulations allow all national forests to manage versus suppress lightning-caused wildfires if they meet the Forest Service's objectives, explained Jaime Gamboa, fire management officer for the Prescott Forest's Bradshaw Ranger District.

He said he is about 95 percent certain that Prescott Forest officials have not allowed a wildfire to burn outside of wilderness areas since the forest was established in 1907.

For decades, partly because of public outcry, the Forest Service actively suppressed all fires whether nature caused them or not. But in recent decades, the agency and public have gained a better understanding of the benefits of fire to the ecosystem.

One of the Forest Service's objectives is to return fire to its natural role in the ecosystem. The ponderosa pine forests of the Southwest are heavily dependent upon fire to exist, burning on average every 5-7 years in pre-settlement times.

The Hyde Fire probably ignited during weekend storms, and it was reported Wednesday, Gamboa said.

The fire is located in the remote northwest part of the forest, about 20 miles northwest of Prescott. Forest officials reported the fire to the public Thursday.

It is burning in an area where the Forest Service has conducted prescribed burns, public information officer Debbie Maneely said.

"It is the perfect candidate (for managing versus suppressing), especially with the type of weather we've been having," Gamboa said. The region experienced an unusually high amount of rain in May, and cloudy conditions continue.

It grew to only three acres by Wednesday, Gamboa said. By late Thursday afternoon it was about 100 acres in size because of higher winds.

The closest structures, all historic structures owned by the Forest Service, are the Hyde Mountain lookout about two miles to the north and the Camp Wood ranger station about two miles to the east.

Forest Road 95C is closed because of the fire.

A 20-person crew and a fire engine crew are monitoring the blaze, and forest officials have defined boundaries where it can grow, Gamboa said.

The fire is moving to the northeast but not toward the structures, Gamboa said.

Related Stories:
• Letter: Prescribed burns avert worse fires
• Editorial: Wildfire now is forest's friend

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 05, 2009
Article comment by: No name provided

He is 5% wrong. The Prescott Forest has put fires in "confine" status outside of Wilderness areas for 20+ years that I know of. The only difference is that now they can count the acres toward their total target for fuels treatment.

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