Originally Published: August 7, 2016 6:40 a.m.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A wildfire that is burning naturally on the Grand Canyon's North Rim more than a month after it started has exceeded what fire managers thought it would cost.
The lightning-caused blaze, which began June 29, is costing nearly $10 million to manage, The Arizona Daily Sun reported (http://bit.ly/2aOlzzJ). The fire has burned nearly 23 square miles.
The fire has cost $9.8 million thus far or about $700 per acre, well above the average cost of $70 per acre for managed fires on the Coconino last summer, Kaibab National Forest spokesman David Hercher said.
The fire has burned at moderate and high severity in some places, which wasn't initially expected, said Edward Hiatt, the fire management officer who oversees the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and the Kaibab National Forest's North Kaibab Ranger District.
Fire officials have chosen to let the blaze burn naturally, but they are managing its size. Initially the fire was expected to burn at a low intensity for a number of weeks. But hot, windy days in July caused the fire to spread and intensify. Fire managers had to close the popular Cape Royal and Point Imperial road as a result.
Hiatt said even the spread isn't a bad thing. The national forest where the fire went hadn't seen fire in centuries and needed a reduction in dense fuels.
Despite the fire getting bigger than expected, crews haven't had to do any major suppression efforts, said Micah Bell, fire information officer. "It's a naturally burning fire the way nature would have intended," Bell said.
Officials with the Forest Service and the Natural Park Service say they are using the fire's proximity to the tourist-heavy North Rim to teach visitors about fire's role in the ecosystem.
"Our people were explaining to the public what was occurring and what they were looking at when they see charcoal and black and charred trees," Hiatt said. "We strive to really give education as well."