Since publication of my op-ed “What A Mess” in the Gila Valley Central, June 22 edition, folks are raging either the Frye Fire has been horribly mishandled by upper-echelon Forest Service directors and supervisors, or my observations are the ravings of an idiot, totally ignorant of wildfire management. A few online posters have suggested I must be a complete moron or have been sipping too many Starbucks lattes, resulting in some kind of delusion.
In reply, I’ll simply point to the charred remains of the mountain as evidence and let the reader decide.
Prior to June 7, the mountain was intact – vegetation, animals and humans coexisted within its “sky island” designation. Telescopes, cabin retreats, fishing lakes and recreational facilities were mutually compatible. Mount Graham wasn’t the White Mountains, but it was the closest thing we had. Plus, many vacationers, hikers and camping enthusiasts from southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico regularly enjoyed its serenity and tranquility.
A lightning strike above the Frye Mesa Reservoir changed the mountain’s history for decades to come. Not that this particular lightning strike was any more significant than any other, but the way it was initially handled by the Forest Service has proven to be a colossal blunder, and an expensive one, too.
Now, I don’t know who made the decision not to extinguish the small lightning-caused fire when it was still possible to do so. However, I don’t believe it was any member of a Hot Shot crew or other firefighters who have been brought into to suppress the flames. I’ve never insinuated such and made no mention of the firefighters being to blame. Their presence is simply the result of a situation that was allowed to develop by higher-ups in the Department of the Interior or U.S. Forest Service.
Someone in a command position somewhere decided, for whatever reason, not to put out the little fire. Excuses abound, but the fact of the matter is a Forest Service supervisor – not an office worker, janitor or fire fighter – made the call. Which seems to be in direct opposition to their persistent chant of “Extinguish all camp fires before leaving the area” and the ageless “Remember, only you can prevent forest fires” incantation of their Smokey Bear mascot.
Seems in this case the Forest Service wasn’t practicing what it preaches. As a result, the mountain has been reduced to a heap of ashes, including the carcasses of innumerable fish and animals, not the least of which is the pampered and protected Mount Graham red squirrel.
As a result of this travesty, I’d suggest Arizona’s congressional and state representatives look into these matters to determine if any criminal conduct has been committed. Since Congress likes to investigate things, this would be an excellent opportunity for them to research and discuss the fire policies of the Forest Service, their bureaucratic procedures in handling such situations, and who is ultimately responsible for issuing a “go” or “no go” order to extinguish a smoldering fire.
It’s obviously too late to save Mount Graham, but there will be similar circumstances in the future which might benefit from a congressional review of current Forest Service fire doctrines and management methodology.
There’s one for certain, whatever their current procedures are, they failed miserably on Mount Graham.
The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.