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Sun, Aug. 18

Editorial: Why would Forest Service let Stubbs Fire burn?

Underbrush burns in the Stubbs Fire, near Camp Wood - about 30 miles northwest of Prescott. Forest officials are thinking of letting the fire burn. (Prescott National Forest/Courtesy)

Underbrush burns in the Stubbs Fire, near Camp Wood - about 30 miles northwest of Prescott. Forest officials are thinking of letting the fire burn. (Prescott National Forest/Courtesy)

“Why would Prescott National Forest officials not fight the Stubbs Fire and just let it burn?” That is a question that several readers have asked us this week.

The lightning-caused blaze, which started Sunday, July 8, near Camp Wood — about 30 miles northwest of Prescott — is now approaching 100 acres, as of Wednesday.

When it began, forest managers stated because rain has begun to fall in the region and that no significant threat exists to a nearby ranch, as well as the area of the fire being uninhabited, they were exploring the idea of monitoring the fire but allowing it to help clear out the forest floor.

It remains at zero-percent contained.

It is easy to see the confusion: with the Prescott area and surrounding communities and forest in Stage 2 Fire Restrictions, and a wildland fire beginning nearby. It is illogical, almost hypocritical, to allow a fire to go unabated. Right?

Not necessarily.

Consider that the concept of “let it burn” dates back many years, when forest managers learned that 100-plus years of fire suppression had created deadly situations.

Not only did forest floors have a lot of accumulated debris — needles, downed trees, etc. — that was highly flammable and would normally be cleaned out by smaller, regular fires, but also their efforts to snuff out fires had allowed forested areas — let’s say one acre, which should have only 10 pine trees on it — to overgrow and have 10 or more times that many trees.

A fire in those conditions would get into the canopy (the upper level of the trees) easier, and spread quicker. Those are a few reasons, for instance, the Forest Service conducts prescribed burns today.

Also, side note, the largest losses of life — firefighters — before the Yarnell 19 (the Granite Mountain Hotshots) died in 2013, were in 1933 (Griffith Park, Los Angeles — 29 firefighters) and in 1910 (Devil’s Broom, St. Joe Valley, Idaho — 78), according to the National Fire Protection Association’s website. All of these tragedies, and more, engrained in the minds of the public: stop all fires, quickly.

We support the Forest Service’s decision; further, they don’t ignore a fire, but are monitoring it with two Type II crews.

Naturally, people are on high alert when it comes to fire, but there comes a point where we need to trust the experts who have invested their lives and careers into this business of firefighting.

Some may present past incidents as evidence of concern, but weighing out all the expert firefighting we have witnessed here over the years — and the many homes and lives saved — in most cases the experts have a good track record.

Consider too the historical nature of the Camp Wood area. In the past several decades, multiple fires have been “cleaning” out the forest there. The most recent was the lightning-caused Hyde Fire in July 2017; it burned 18,072 acres.

The Stubbs Fire is just the latest one.

Finally, the Prescott National Forest — and likely all area fire districts, fire departments and other entities — are lifting all fire restrictions and the partial closures as of Friday, July 13, Forest Service Public Affairs/FOIA officer Debbie Maneely said Wednesday. She told the Courier that humidity levels are up and there has been enough rain to end restrictions.

Regardless, let’s be smart and safe out there.


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