By Jon Johnson
MOUNT GRAHAM – The effects of the Frye Fire on Mount Graham continue to be felt long after the last flame has gone out.
The Frye Fire burned 48,443 acres and was put out by monsoon rains. However, the continued rain in the burned areas has caused flash flooding that has endangered people on the mountain and down below.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) closed Highway 366 (Swift Trail) at noon Monday, citing compromised structural integrity and a continued danger to the public.
The road was closed at Round the Mountain Trailhead picnic area, meaning those who own cabins at Turkey Fat will not be able to access their properties. However, people will still be able to access Angle Orchard and the Noon Creek day use area.
ADOT Safford District Engineer Bill Harmon said the closure was due to safety concerns and that it could remain in place until the monsoon season was over. In addition to road instability in areas – most being in the previously closed area above Ladybug Saddle – Harmon said there have been at least three instances this monsoon season where people were stranded for hours on the mountain due to flooding roadways.
“We have a lot of concern about the integrity of Wet Canyon and what will happen there,” Harmon said. “We have quite a log jam perched above the highway and it’s stuck. (With) the potential for a debris flow or failure of the structures there, we do not feel comfortable with the public being exposed to that.”
Harmon said ADOT crews will work on the roadway daily and it and the Forest Service will continually assess the situation.
“We would like to open up the highway as soon as it’s practical, but it might be a while,” he said. “The floods and debris flows have been difficult to deal with . . . We appreciate everyone’s patience.”
While the lower part of the mountain may open after the monsoon season, the upper portion above Ladybug Saddle will remain closed through its normal winter closure and will not reopen until April 15, 2018, according to the Forest Service.