The recent Rafael Fire in Sycamore Canyon destroyed two historic cabins and damaged several other cultural heritage sites. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.
The Buck Ridge cabins built in 1942 burned to the ground, despite efforts by the Mormon Lake Hotshot Crew to dig fire lines and apply protective wrap to the structures. In addition, a 1930s stone cabin used by hikers was damaged by the fire, as was a centuries-old Sinagua cliff dwelling.
Anne Dowd is an archeologist for the Coconino National Forest. "When you lose these places," she says, "in part they’re symbols of our history, our shared collective knowledge about the past."
Dowd says crews were able to protect Palatki and Honanki, two Southern Sinagua cliff dwellings near Sedona that are significant to Indigenous peoples. The wildfire came within just a few miles of those sites. Archeologist Jason Nez was part of the crew that responded. "A lot of our resources, they’re very fire resilient, they can handle a lot of heat, they can handle a lot of smoke, but what we’re dealing with now is this unnatural fuel buildup," he says.
A legacy of fire suppression as well as drier, warmer weather has led to more intense and frequent wildfires in the West. But Nez adds wildfire is a natural process and it’s important to assess if repairing the fire damage to a cultural heritage site is considered appropriate by the local tribes.