22 May 2008, 9:35am
by admin

Whitmire Fire

Location: 25 miles southwest of Safford, Graham Co., AZ

Specific location: Peloncillo Mountains, Douglas Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest

Date of Origin: 05/21/2008
Cause: human-caused, escaped USFS prescribed fire

Both the Whitmire Fire and the Frye Mesa Fire are escaped prescribed burns. They should never have been set in conditions of high temps, low humidity, and strong winds in the weather forecast. From the Coronado NF website, before the fires:


TUCSON, AZ (May 14, 2008) - The week of May 19th, 2008, a prescribed fire is scheduled on the Douglas Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest. The Whitmire Prescribed Fire will be undertaken in the Peloncillo Mountains of southwest New Mexico. Weather and other conditions permitting, 80 acres of National Forest Land will be burned as part of a study led by the Rocky Mountain Research Center.

Burn implementation was attempted on several occasions in the fall and early winter, however, storms prevented successful ignition. If conditions do not favor burning the week of May 19, the burn will be delayed until conditions are favorable, into mid-June.

The research is a watershed study which investigates the impacts of two prescribed burning prescriptions on several ecosystem components. Additional studies will cover the effects of fire on the movement of side-slope soils and stream channel deposits, soil nutrient changes, and flora and fauna.

The study is a joint partnership effort by the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Coronado National Forest, the Animas Foundation, and with local ranchers, who also are members of the Malpai Borderlands Group.

The burn is being implemented in coordination with other prescribed burns in the area to reduce the amount of smoke in the airshed. The burn will be ignited with south to west winds to eliminate smoke in any urban or smoke sensitive areas. Four 30 to 60 acre units will be burned over a four-day period, resulting in little, if any residual smoke after each unit is burned. The burn is not expected to have any impact on Forest users.

Situation as of 05/23/08
Total Personnel: 104
Size: 3,600 acres
Percent Contained: 50%

Reported costs to date: $40,000


Situation as of 05/22/08
Total Personnel: 104+
Size: 3,600 acres
Percent Contained: 10%

Air resources grounded due to high winds. Extreme fire behavior was reported.

RED FLAG WARNING: Unseasonably strong low pressure system over the Great Basin and northern Arizona will result in yet another very windy day across all of southeast Arizona today (05/22/08). The combination of the strong winds, low humidities, and a very high to extreme fire danger rating has prompted the issuance of a red flag warning.

Winds west 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 40 mph in the evening decreasing to 10 to 20 mph overnight.

23 May 2008, 2:39pm
by Bob Z.

The fact that this fire was scheduled for fall and then switched to spring for “experimental” purposes shows that the experiment was poorly designed. There is a huge difference between fall and spring burns, and the experiment designers should have recognized those differences in the first place.

Also — why are/were the planned burns so small? The initial results would seem to indicate the economic costs and risks (since demonstrated) were unreasonable, and the biological and “ecosystem component” findings at a scale so small as to be misleading or insignificant.

Perhaps now the experiment can be continued to see the results of a “spring burn” on “ecosystem components” (!?!) at a more reasonable, subbasin-scale. That is, if the experiment has a more credible set of objectives than the poorly-designed burn patterns would indicate.

The “additional studies” will also have some relevance at the current scale, whereas they would have been mostly meaningless at the previous stand-scale project that was being attempted.



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