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WWII Artillery Range Presents Challenges, Opportunities for Crews on the Maroon Fire

Coconino National Forest

Crews on the Coconino National Forest have contained about half of the 8,600-acre Maroon Fire northeast of Flagstaff. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, firefighters have had to carefully work around a World War II artillery range where unexploded munitions could be buried.

Forest officials have known for years about possible hazards in the 565-acre area and took precautions as the Maroon Fire approached. Heavy equipment and personnel were kept out preventing them from conducting ignitions by hand. So managers dropped small detonation devices from a drone over the former range last week. It was the first-ever such use of an unmanned aircraft over an active wildfire. They didn’t find any unexploded ordnances, or UXOs, but live weapons could still be in the area.

Credit Coconino National Forest
Firefighters conduct burnout operations on the Maroon Fire near Flagstaff.

"The Army Corps of Engineers has an operation plan for next year of removing those UXOs. So what we’re going to be able to do is burn off all the grasses, all the forest debris and anything else in that area so any UXOs that could be there would be more visible," says Coconino National Forest spokesperson George Jozens.

The lightning-caused blaze started at Maroon Crater near Leupp Road more than two weeks ago. Burnout operations are now finished and the wildfire is winding down.

Smoke, however, could be visible for the next month as cinders can remain hot for long periods of time.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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