Now that the smoke has settled and the most of the flames are out, we’re getting our first good look at how the Slide Fire changed the landscape of Oak Creek Canyon. Arizona Public Radio’s Aaron Granillo tours the canyon where the fire scorched more than 33 square miles.
Driving up Highway 89A, a U.S. Forest Service official points out where investigators think the Slide Fire started.
“This is where we see the highest severity burn,” said Karen Malis-Clark, a semi-retired Forest Service volunteer. “This is when the fire was burning at its most intense behavior.”
The human-caused blaze sparked just north of Slide Rock State Park.
“You can even see some of the trees that fell down. They’ve been reduced to ash,” Malis-Clark said.
All along the western walls of Oak Creek Canyon, there are rows of blackened ponderosa pine trees and vegetation. High winds whipped the flames up canyon, and left some of its red-colored walls stained black by smoke.
Even though the blaze is nearly fully continued, helicopters are still flying above the canyon looking for any flare-ups, like the one near Sterling Canyon over the weekend. Choppers were used to drop sling loads of water, which prevented the flames from spreading any further.
“But the fire was coming this way. The winds were high, the winds were hot,” said Mary Garland, owner of the historic Garland’s Lodge.
Its 100-year history nearly went up in flames, and it might have, if it wasn’t for Mary’s husband. Gary Garland is a former volunteer firefighter who stayed at the property despite a mandatory evacuation order for the area.
“He knew where all the water systems were, and the hoses,” Mary Garland said. “He was able to participate and help and guide and so on with these guys, who were fantastic, and turned that fire.”
In the end, firefighters saved all homes and businesses in Oak Creek Canyon. Still, much of the forest is off limits, including some of the most popular hiking trials in West Fork. There’s no word yet when they will reopen, but Forest Service officials say some areas will likely stay closed through at least this summer.