The Museum Fire north of Flagstaff ignited in an area of forest recently thinned by the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, a voter-approved forest restoration initiative. Log decks and slash piles were still on the ground. As KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, it’s unclear how that may have affected the fire’s behavior.
The Dry Lake Hills thinning project was not quite half done when the fire began. Initial reports suggest the thinned areas helped reduce the fire’s intensity. But the steep terrain and dry weather add “wild cards” to the fire’s behavior.
Paul Summerfelt is Flagstaff’s fire management officer. "We’ve suffered some damage, quite frankly. There’s been wildlife habitat lost. Some of the trail systems that are favorites of people have been damaged, seriously in some cases. Some of the treatment work that we’ve done, we know burned."
Thinning work is temporarily halted until experts assess the burn area.
Amy Waltz is a fire ecologist at Northern Arizona University. She says scientists plan to study the site to see how the wildfire behaved in the unfinished treated areas, where slash was still on the ground. She says, "The fire might be low intensity—it might not be in the canopy—but the slash tends to burn longer and hotter, and so the trees are actually girdled by heat."
Financial damage also needs to be assessed. The two log decks that burned were expected to fetch roughly 15 to 25 thousand dollars at market. One had already been sold.