Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Into The Black | Slide Fire

Mondays in the summer are typically adventure days. We haven't had too many since the start of Fire Season, but this week we were able to pack up the truck and head south west of Flagstaff to the edge of the Mogollan Rim. We headed "into the black" and checked out a portion of the Slide Fire burn area. note: before embarking we obtained maps and respected road and forest area closures and you should do the same!
 We started up on the top of the rim, far off from the canyon and slowly worked our way in. As we moved further into the black, BK told me of their day to day ops in specific areas, showed me their daily briefing and spike camp areas, and we talked about the various fire effects. The amount of green in those areas was quite intriguing. It was great to see the new life, especially the ferns.
 As we got closer to the edge of the rim and towards the canyon where the fire had crested, the way things looked drastically changed. There was a lot less green and everything was black, brown, and/or ashy. On the outer edges, there still so many trees that were healthy and ground cover, and other plants so there was wildlife. Here, there was nothing. We just sat and the silence was overwhelming. There were no leaves for the wind to rustle or echo off of. There were not any animals skittering about to make various noises. There weren't any birds. Even walking in this area was quiet. In comparison to other areas, the ground here was more gray than black. Due to the rains we have had, all the charred ground and ash had been washed away. It was so eery.
 I was completely blown away by this whole experience. It was the first time I had been in the burn scar of such a large fire so soon after ignition and suppression. I would have never gone out there by myself and I wouldn't encourage doing such a thing if you aren't knowledgeable (in this case, BK was intimately familiar with this fire). While we made sure to stick to open and "stable" areas, there were still hidden dangers. One thing I never considered was the fact that root systems can burn underground. The photo above shows the remains of a stump and the empty ground where the roots were. Look at how thin the dirt layer is. You can easily step through and possibly get injured.
Also, the burned trees start to die, break, and fall. Sometimes trees crash against each other or are precariously leaned against other dying trees. Sometimes large broken limbs are teetering in the branches of other trees. It is definitely worth it to be cautious and sensitive to the potential dangers, as well as following road and area closures.
Reflecting back on this little adventure I am struck with awe. It was mind-blowing seeing how expansive 21,000 acres really is. It was amazing to see the destruction and desolation but also to see the rebirth and regrowth taking place so soon. This drive out to the forest also sparked a lot of contemplation and rumination on some situations we are dealing with. I found myself stuck on some scriptures  (Ecc 3, Isa 40:31, Psa 37 and Acts 2 if you are interested). While the individual verses themselves are not meaningful in this context, I did find myself at peace as we were driving out at the end of the day. Never have I been so rejuvenated from a trip off the beaten path especially such a physically draining one, but there was just something about the balance of death and rebirth.

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