Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Tue, March 19

Column: What’s behind that smell of smoke?

The Prescott National Forest above Camp Wood is an example of land that is very thick with brush – and it has burned before. (Tim Wiederaenders/Courier)

The Prescott National Forest above Camp Wood is an example of land that is very thick with brush – and it has burned before. (Tim Wiederaenders/Courier)

I had wanted to pen an eloquent editorial for today — about state politics or local events — but when I sat down to write, all I could think about was Saturday morning’s happenings.

I got up early, checked, and then I saw them. Tips and comments coming in from people wondering why the Prescott area was covered in a blanket of smoke.

Another fire? They certainly could see and smell the smoke.

We are just putting the Goodwin Fire to bed, and only Friday learned five homes were lost to the blaze. Tensions are high.

After putting out a few feeler emails, I learned that smoke from the Brooklyn Fire northeast of Black Canyon City, and possibly another fire near Sunset Point on Interstate 17, was drifting toward us.

Whew, not local.

Now consider that the Brooklyn Fire started Friday afternoon, and less than 24 hours later it was already more than 22,000 acres. For scale on that, the Goodwin Fire started June 24 but did not explode from 1,500 to 18,000-plus acres until June 27.

Frankly, I think many of the residents of the Prescott area have PTSD.

We’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because inside of 20 to 30 years we have had many fires …

• Big Bug Fire (above Walker), 1990 – 100 acres, and 2010 – 65 acres;

• Doce Fire (near Iron Springs Road, Granite Basin, and into Williamson Valley), 1990 – 850 acres, and 2013 – more than 6,700 acres;

• Goodwin Mesa Fire, 1994 – 150 acres, and Goodwin Fire, 2017 – 28,515 acres (our most recent);

• Indian Fire, May 2002 – 1,345 acres (threatened downtown and torched Prescott from the White Spar area);

• Hyde Fire (northern part of Prescott National Forest), 2009 – 245 acres;

• Cooks Complex Fire, 2012 – 7,299 acres;

• Gladiator Fire, 2012 – 16,240 acres (climbed up our back side from Crown King);

• Yarnell Hill Fire, 2013 – 8,500 acres (took from us 19 of our Hotshots and more than 100 homes).

• Yarnell/Tenderfoot Fire, 2016 – 4,100 acres (east/south side of town this time).

I am sure there are more, especially the conflagrations that listed 50 or fewer acres.

Notice though some of these places burned more than once. That is truly not always the case; most that reoccur (same name) are near each other, though sometimes they burn over that smaller area again.

The lesson I have learned is to trust nothing — that beautiful sea of brush on the back side of the mountain is sometimes 40 or more years old, thick as molasses in winter and flammable like a Molotov cocktail.

PTSD? Sure thing. We have go-bags packed — or know exactly what we’ll grab to bug out; we make plans; and our noses are attuned to “campfire” scents.

It is more that we have experienced what it means to evacuate. We or our friends have suffered losses – or have been lost.

So, to see a fellow customer at a convenience store shrug at news of a fire or even smoke in the area, that is concerning. I watch that person turn and walk out the door with his soda, and I wonder if it will be his cigarette butt that lights the next one; his trailer chains, dragging on the ground, that spark another roadside blaze; or his campfire not “dead out.”

The season is underway, and the fire danger has not abated. Those monsoons also bring with them dry lightning. And, those fires I listed? More than half were human caused, others from lightning.

To the firefighters, first responders and support staffers — thank you for all you do.

Be careful out there, folks.

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