Frye Fire now 14th largest wildfire in state’s recorded history

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Fry Fire District: The Frye Fire burned more than 48,000 acres on Mount Graham, including a large swath of habitat for the Mt. Graham red squirrel.

Now at 47,048 acres burned with 51 percent containment

By Jon Johnson

MOUNT GRAHAM – The Frye Fire has the dubious distinction of now being the 14th largest recorded wildfire in Arizona’s history, passing the Sawmill Fire that occurred in April. However, the records only go back to 1990. 

The fire is now listed at 47,048 acres with 51 percent containment. It has cost a roughly $19.5 million to fight the fire to date. The largest wildfire ever recorded in Arizona was the Wallow Fire in 2011, which was roughly 540,000 acres, followed by 2002’s Rodeo/Chediski Fire, which was more than 450,000 acres. The Wallow Fire was started by two men camping, while the Rodeo/Chediski Fire was two fires that joined together and were started by wildland firefighter looking to drum up work and a stranded runner who was attempting to signal a news helicopter.    

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Fry Fire District: The Frye Fire burns on Mount Graham in mid-June as firefighters construct a fire break.

A recent weather change that included precipitation has aided fire suppression efforts just as the flames were licking at the cabin’s doors at Turkey Flat, but it only delayed the fire for a day or two, according to Frye Fire public information officer Mike Cole. The area also has numerous other protections in place, including fire lines, sprinkler systems, cleaned out areas, back burn operations and firefighters on the ground ready and willing to do battle.

“The last couple days, any rain we got the bullseye seems to be Turkey Flat just by pure luck,” Cole said. “That rain will hold things in check for a day or two, but there’s still logs out there that are burning.”

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Paul Schulz: This thunderstorm from June 25 didn’t produce much rain but a localized storms Monday and Tuesday gave some relief to the fire suppression effort.

Firefighters have built hand lines along Twilight Canyon that is guiding the fire to the west along a Nuttal Complex Fire line from 2004. Additionally, helicopters continue to drop water and now fire retardant in the area of Turkey Flat to check the fire and create a barrier.

The expected humidity today on the mountain is expected to be 15 to 20 percent less than Tuesday, which will increase the likelihood of increased fire behavior.

“We have a pretty high chance of ignition today if we do get something going,” Cole said.

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Fry Fire District: The goal of aerial ignitions is to avoid the fire making it to the tree tops.

While the total burn area has surpassed the Nuttall Complex Fire, Cole said while there are stands of trees that have been burnt, the fire has burned in a mosaic pattern with a good number of healthy trees left.

“When people actually get up there again, they’ll see places where there’s lots of green, where there’s just understory burn and there’s also places where we had a crown fire burning through there,” Cole said. “So, it’s pretty much a mix across that mountain.”

Reports about the conditions of the campgrounds on Mount Graham have so far come back as favorable.

The other area of concern continues to be on the southwest side, where the fire is raging in Grant Creek. A number of helicopter drops of water and retardant continue to bombard that area, additionally, aerial ignition back burns may be utilized today to assist in altering that area from a higher-intensity fire into a low-intensity ground fire.

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Fry Fire District: The other main concern for the Frye Fire is the southern side where it is burning in Grant Creek.

“What we’re trying to do is back that fire downhill so it doesn’t get up into the trees,” Cole said. “If we do that, we can reduce the fire’s severity.”

A community meeting will be held Wednesday, July 5, at Bonita Elementary School at 6 p.m., and a second community meeting will be held Thursday, July 6, at Thatcher Middle School’s cafeteria at 1340 Fourth Ave. at 7 p.m.