The wildfires have been numerous and extreme in Arizona this summer. Some of the main fires were the Coldwater, Woodbury, Hoyle, Badger Springs and Mountain Fires. The most widespread fire is the Woodbury Fire, which is burning in the Superstition Wilderness area of the Tonto National Forest east of Phoenix. The Woodbury Fire is the fifth largest fire in Arizona history.
The Woodbury Fire started on June 8 and, as of July 2, has burnt over 123,000 acres and is still burning with about 80% containment. The fire is believed to be human-caused, possibly from a campfire that was not properly put out, but the cause is still under investigation. Over 900 firefighters, hotshot fire crews and personnel were tasked to contain the fire. The hot temperatures and strong, unpredictable winds made the fire spread quickly. The remote wilderness area made it even more difficult to get the fire under control. The Superstition Wilderness area is steep, rugged land that has areas that are inaccessible by vehicle, so it made getting ground crews there difficult and dangerous. The record amount of rain this past winter enabled more grass to grow, which gave the fire more fuel to spread and burn the desert landscape.
The fire has burnt thousands of acres of pristine wilderness areas and hiking trails. Firefighters are using techniques such as back burning to box the fire in to protect historical sites, ranches, structures, and populated areas.
The fire has burned areas that are important to wildlife, like deer, javelina, coyote, bobcats, foxes, bighorn sheep, black bears, squirrels, owls, snakes, lizards, rabbits and more.
According to Amy Burnett, information and education program manager for the Arizona Game & Fish Department, much of the fire is burning in a mosaic pattern—rather than a straight fire—and is burning slow enough for some animals to escape. Some reptiles, amphibians, rodents and rabbits might have been able to survive by going into underground burrows until the fire passed. (Burnett was quoted in a June 26, 2019 article “Rabbits, bears and bobcats: How has the Woodbury Fire affected Arizona wildlife habitat?” published on azcentral.com. )
Fire crews were able to protect and save the Reavis Ranch area, including a critical habitat for the federally protected Mexican spotted owls. The Reavis Ranch area is also home to an apple orchard that was planted in the 1800s by Elisha Reavis, known as “The Hermit of the Superstition Mountains.” The famous ancient Medusa Mother Tree (an alligator juniper that is estimated to be between 600–1,000 years old) was also saved.
We are very thankful to the numerous firefighters who battled the Woodbury and other fires.