Arizona Wildfire Grows to 6th Largest in State History

Arizona Wildfire Grows to 6th Largest in State History

30 May 2011

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USA — The Horseshoe Two fire has doubled in size in the past 10 days, now ranking 6th among Arizona’s largest wildfires – all of which have burned since 2002.

Tucson, AZ — As of May 29, 2011, the Horseshoe Two fire on the southern Arizona and New Mexico border has now burned 64,290 acres as it continues to be fanned by winds in a remote area of the rugged, narrow canyons of the Chiricahua Mountains unit of the Coronado National Forest, 95 miles southeast of Tucson.

The spike in the number of acres burned by Sunday afternoon, May 29, 2011, up from 30,758 acres on May 18, 2011, makes the Horseshoe Two fire the 6th largest wildfire in Arizona history, according to statistics from the Southwest Coordination Center. The state’s top 6 wildfires have all occurred since the summer of 2002.

Gusting winds and tinder-dry pine trees are fueling the blaze, which is now 45 percent under control. The estimated containment date is Wednesday, June 22, 2011. But on Thursday, May 18, 2011, fire officials told residents at a community meeting in Rodeo, N.M., not to expect it to stop burning until the annual monsoon rain arrives in July.

Arizona’s 6th Largest Wildfire

The Horseshoe Two fire started on Monday, May 8, 2011, and by May 18th it became the largest recorded fire in Chiricahua Mountain history, surpassing the 1994 Rattlesnake Fire, which burned 27,500 acres of wilderness in the same area.

The Horseshoe Two fire has doubled in size since then and by mid-day Sunday became the 6th largest in state history, surpassing the 1996 Lone fire which burned 61,370 acres before it was contained.

With the Horseshoe Two fire, the six largest Arizona wildfires on record have all happened since 2002:

– The Rodeo-Chedeski fire in the White Mountains, northeast of Phoenix, started on June 18, 2002 burning 467,066 acres and destroying over 400 homes.
– The Cave Creek Complex fire started June 21, 2005 and scorched 248,310 acres.
– The Willow fire southwest of Payson, started June 24, 2004 and burned 119,500 acres.
– The Aspen fire started June 17, 2003, burning 84,750 acres and destroying 340 homes and businesses in the resort town of Summerhaven on Mount Lemmon in the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson.
– The Edge Complex fire in central Arizona started July 15, 2005 and burned 71,625 acres.

The Horseshoe Two fire is the only of the top six Arizona wildfires that began before mid-June, and is 1 of 3 that were not started by lightning, according to the Southwest Coordination Center.

Evacuation Orders Lifted

The Cochise County Sheriff’s office had issued a precautionary evacuation order for the tiny community of Paradise and the American Museum of Natural History’s Southwestern Research Station on May 20, 2011. Burnout operations were initiated to protect the 32 structures in Paradise that are scattered across oak-dotted hills and riparian canyons of sycamore trees. Fire crews also burned a portion of the Southwestern Research Station’s 90 acres of private land in order to stop the fire’s spread into the area.

Those evacuations were lifted at 8:00 a.m. just before Memorial Day weekend on Friday, May 27, 2011, for residents of Paradise, the Southwest Research Center and the surrounding area. Fire crews are remaining in the area to monitor the fire.

Windy Weather and Rough Terrain

Saturday saw winds up to 40 mph and temperatures nearing 100 degrees with only 7 percent humidity. A Red Flag Warning for wind gusts to 45 mph and low relative humidity was issued for Sunday, according to InciWeb.

Currently, 939 firefighting personnel from California, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Arizona have joined forces in fighting the Horseshoe Two fire. This includes 14 hotshot crews, 9 hand crews, as well as 34 engines, 26 water tenders and 10 helicopters.

The region’s steep terrain has hampered most direct attacks on the fire, requiring an indirect strategy in many areas. Because of this, the fire continues to have the potential to grow further into the surrounding Coronado National Forest. That forest covers 1,780,000 acres of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico with elevations ranging from 3,000 feet to 10,720 feet in 12 scattered mountain ranges called “sky islands.” The area is considered as biologically diverse as any ecosystems encountered between Mexico and Canada.

The “Southwest Area 7-Day Fire Potential Outlook,” issued by the National Interagency Fire Center, “predicts a building ridge to the east points towards increasing temperatures for most areas, increasing wind/instability west, and moisture intrusion into the east with a lighting threat.”

Those conditions are expected to continue through mid-week


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