As temperatures rise — and prior to the monsoon kicking in — wildfires throughout the state are expected to increase as evident by a pair of fires in which local firefighters are helping to battle.
According to Sedona Fire District Assistant Chief Jeff Piechura, as of Wednesday, May 31, SFD was assigned to two fires: Snake Ridge, east of the Village of Oak Creek and Camp Verde and the Pinal Fire near Tucson. Both were lightning caused.
Two personnel were assigned to the Snake Ridge Fire as a medical response team. That fire has caused heavy smoke at times throughout the Verde Valley. At the Pinal Fire, SFD had an operation section chief and a task force leader.
In addition, on May 28 and 29, five SFD firefighters were deployed — along with a larger wildland engine — to the Joe’s Hill Fire in Black Canyon City, which burned nearly 60 acres. As of press time, the Pinal Fire had scorched 7,193 acres while at Snake Ridge, 7,971 acres had burned, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
SFD Battalion Chief Jayson Coil at press time was serving as that operation section chief in the Pinal Fire after arriving there on May 24. He said SFD uses the National Incident Command System, which ranks incidents by complexity, with type 1 being the most complex.
There are 16 national Type 1 incident management teams, of which two are located in USFS Region 3 — Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. Each team has four sections — logistics, finance, planning and operations. The three other sections provide the needed support in their area of expertise so they can run an effective operation, Coil said.
“On this incident I was night operations, so I oversaw all of the firefighting resources on night shift,” he said.
As for the fire itself, Coil said the terrain is extremely steep, rugged and there is limited access.
“The history of the incident in unique,” he said. “It occurred in an area where fire had not burned for over 50 years. Based on current and expected conditions it was determined that allowing the fire to fulfill its natural role on the landscape was the best solution to avoid more damaging fires in the future.”
He said the effects of the fire were beneficial and was managed for the first 15 days by a type 3 team with limited resources. However, the brush continued to dry more quickly than was anticipated. It was then determined to call in Coil and the team.
The proximity of the fire to the community of Globe and the changes in conditions prompted firefighters to ensure they had a team in place that was able to deal with the potential of fire threatening the community, he said. SFD Chief Kris Kazian said these fires are examples of the importance of having mutual aid agreements among various departments.
“When wildfires break out, no one agency has the resources to effectively fight the fire,” he said. “Working in a mutual aid system that relies on neighboring agencies and those throughout the state, as well as neighboring states if needed, provide us the staffing and equipment to be effective. Operating in this way is an efficient and an effective use of resources to deal with emergencies.”
Agency assistance was seen first-hand in the Sedona area, mostly recently during the 2014 Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon.
“Being able to utilize resources when you request them — or when you are requested to a community — is the only way we can get the number of firefighters and equipment needed to make an impact,” Kazian said. “It is a very dynamic and scientific process to fighting wildfires and participating in the system that manages all the resources is the only way we are going to have the appropriate number of firefighters when a fire starts in any community.”