One of the most frequently asked questions I get from visitors at the entrance station is “How long ago was the fire on Highway 67 a few miles back?” That fire, known as the Warm Fire, was caused by a lightening strike on June 8, 2006, and burned over 58,000 acres before it was contained on July 4.
While the burned area visible to visitors who drive along that section of Highway 67 to get to the North Rim may look devastated, the vegetation is returning. There are lots of young aspens coming up, and plenty of wildflowers and grasses there, too. To us humans, it looks like a terrible loss. But to mother nature, fire is one of her tools of renewal.
The aspens come back first. The shade cover from the aspen slow the growth of the pines and firs. But aspen grow quickly and don’t live as long. So when they die the canopy opens up and allows the pines and firs to grow. This is forest succession. Plus the Ponderosa Pine are very fire resistant. The thick bark and self-pruning of the lower dead branches helps protect them from fire. Many have scorched trunks , but are still alive and provide the seed for new pines.
If you click on the picture above to enlarge it, and look closely, you’ll see the new growth coming up around the dead, burned trees. You may or may not see the nesting holes of the woodpeckers and flickers who live in the shells of the dead trees, eating the many insects that also occupy the area.
Last week, we had thunderstorms in the area again. Five new fires were ignited by lightening from those storms, in various areas of the North Rim. No, I am not afraid, we’ll be evacuated long before we are in any danger, if any of the fires come too close. The fire above is called the Aspen Fire, on the Wallhalla Plateau, near Cape Royal. It is probably north of where my friend and I hiked a few weeks ago. I don’t know for sure, because they have closed the road. It is about 3.5 miles or so across the canyon from where I live. So far it has burned about 730 acres.
According to the Wildland Fire Policy, “…the role of federal agencies in the wildland/urban interface includes wildland firefighting, hazard fuels reduction, cooperative prevention and education, and technical assistance. Primary responsibility rests at the state and local levels…” “….Finally, agencies and the public must change their expectation that all wildfires can be controlled or suppressed. No organization, technology, or equipment can provide absolute protection when unusual fuel build-ups, extreme weather conditions, multiple ignitions, and extreme fire behavior periodically come together to form catastrophic events…”
As this fire continues, I am sure I will be asked lots of questions about it from visitors when I go back to work on Tuesday. I hope I can give the correct answers, and let them know that even though it looks like a bad thing, it really is nature doing what it does.
For more information about fires on the North Rim, see Geogypsy’s post here.