Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management - State Office
1110 W. Washington Suite 100 Phoenix Arizona 85007
Phoenix, AZ 85007
The virtual community meeting video from the evening of June 21, 2020 is posted to Facebook. The direct is https://www.facebook.com/bushfireinfo/videos/3303072126473508/ This is the transcript below:
June 21, 2020
Virtual Joint Community Meeting ‑ Bush Fire and Central Fire
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Good evening. Thank you for joining us here tonight. My name is Michelle Fidler, I'm a Public Information Officer with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team. Tonight we'll be providing you with an update on both the Bush and the Central Fires. I would like to encourage folks to visit our fire information websites on Inciweb, that's inciweb.nwcg.gov. Each of those websites we try to provide consolidated information it as well as links to all our cooperators, information on the current road status, current evacuation status, Red Cross shelters, things to that effect. This evening we'll cover first an update on the Bush Fire and then move to an update on the Central Fire, and we'll have our Incident Commander wrap things up. We'll be monitoring your questions online. You can also send your questions to our e‑mail, and both of those are available on our website. For more information.
So with that, I think we will go ahead and get started here this evening. I will first kick it off to Tom Torres, the Deputy Forest Supervisor here on the Tonto National Forest.
>> TOM TORRES: All right. Good evening, everybody. I am Tom Torres, Deputy Forest Supervisor on the Tonto and I'm the Agency Administrator representing the Forest Service for both the Bush Fire and the Central Fire. So since the last meeting, we've had a new incident, that's the Central Fire. One of the things we've done to manage that fire is we've asked the Type 1 team that was managing the Bush Fire to also take over responsibility for managing the Central Fire.
Primarily the reason behind that is because they had the capacity, they had the organization for us to quickly jump on that Central Fire, and treat it like we're treating the Bush Fire. I want to stress the strategy behind both of those incidents is full suppression. We want to put those fires out as quickly as we can while maintaining safety of the firefighters, safety of the public, and not doing too much damage to the natural and heritage resources that are out there. So I just want to stress that.
We've made lots of progress on both incidents. You will hear about that after I stop talking, and I want to, I think some of that progress is evident by the fact that there's a whole lot less smoke in the air than there was in previous days.
So I want to thank you for your patience. I know some of you have been displaced from your homes, and you've been inconvenienced by road closures and things like that. And I want to say thank you for your patience and thank you for understanding that our firefighters need the space to effectively and safely do their work. Hopefully we can get you all back to a sense of normal and open the roads and stuff like that as quickly as we can.
So I just want to talk a little bit now about the next steps for us. As the Tonto National Forest, we have the responsibility for making day‑to‑day decisions on the management of the lands that are affected. And we're already turning our attention to some of those post‑fire effects that will likely happen when we start receiving monsoon rain events. It will be discussed a little bit further by others in this presentation, but I just want you to know from the top levels of the forest here on the Tonto, we are committed to doing everything we can to work with our partners, including the counties and the State to provide resources to help alleviate some of those post‑fire effects.
So with that, I'm going to turn it back to ‑‑ I'll turn it over to Ralph, and he will give us an update on the fire itself. So thank you.
>> RALPH LUCAS: All right, Tom, thank you. My name is Ralph Lucas, I'm with the Operations Section of Alan Sinclair's type is 1 team. We have a lot of jargon that's difficult to understand so I want to explain it as simply as possible so you understand. The operations section, Alan's team is the section that has all the firefighters that are on the ground, all of the fire trucks that are the on ground, and as well as the air resources, meaning the helicopters and air tankers and things like that.
So that's what an Operations Section does. We're going to start with the Bush Fire and then we'll leave and I'll come back to the Central Fire. The Bush Fire is currently at 184,674 acres. It is 42 percent contained. And it has 704 people on it. This is what the Bush Fire looks like on a map. When we break up our personnel on the map, we break them into divisions, which are just segments of the fire along its perimeter. So we have certain divisions that come around the fire, and each one of those division personnel report to one person that's in charge of that segment.
We go around that alphanumerically, I'll explain that to you as we go. This is what we call Division Alpha. It is on the 87 road. So the 87 road, the Bush Highway, heading up towards Payson. As you can see, we have what's called black line here, that means the fire is very secure and stopped on the road system going up the Bush Highway, from this point down here near the communities and all the way up. So that's a really good thing. We have stopped this western progress of the fire.
As we move up into the next division, we call that Delta, then we also have Gulf up here. In Division Delta, that's what has been problematic over the last few days. Unfortunately, we found ourselves being pushed by the fire. And if the fire kind of creeps down towards the Bush Highway, with the winds coming out of the Southwest, it makes the fire want to move up to the north and east, and we risk the chance of the fire going over the 87 route and coming up into this country.
I'm pleased to tell you that we have successfully burned out using aerial resources and ground resources and we have a line all the way up there. I wouldn't call it a black line yet. In the next couple days it will be a black line, meaning that we have contained the whole western side of the fire.
Moving around into the area of Jake's Corner, Pioneer and Tonto Basin, that's on the 188 road, this is very secure. As you can tell, it's all in black. As a matter of fact, we opened this up this morning to homeowners and business owners. We choreographed that so you could come in from the north, from Payson, and the southeast from Globe. A lot of people came in, we also had the local sheriff sitting at the IGA store to answer any questions along with a number of our own personnel, and that went successful.
I want to reiterate that folks that are back into their residences and stuff like that might see smoke and glowing embers up in the fire. But trust me, we wouldn't reintroduce homeowners if we felt there was any risk. You're just going to see some stuff, some smoke and some little flames up on the mountain, but they're no threat to the community.
On the south end of the fire, we call this Sierra, Victor, and Zulu divisions. This fire is just creeping down through really light fuels, towards the river, Apache Lake and Roosevelt. It's very secure, we have no issues with that, we're actually letting it do that, we've checked it up in a few places with aerial resources, meaning we stopped the fire with water drops from helicopters so that we maintain a viewshed as you look up from the lakes and river system.
So that's what we have going on on the Bush Fire and I'll be back shortly to talk to you about the Central Fire.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Thanks, Ralph. Up next we have Matt Lane to talk to us here from the local Cave Creek Ranger District ‑‑ Mesa Ranger District. I apologize, I got them mixed up.
>> MATT LANE: Thank you, Michelle. My name is Matt Lane, I am the District Ranger of the mess say Ranger District up at Tonto National Forest, I would like to say thank you again to the Type 1 team and for the firefighters and everything that they're doing to help us contain these fires.
So with the Bush Fire, as Ralph just said, operations are still going on. But we also have to start thinking about what comes next, after the fire is out and contained. So tomorrow, our BAER team will start to assess ‑‑ B‑A‑E‑R, BAER team will assess, Burn Area Emergency Response team. What they're going to look at is again what happens next, now that the fire is concluding the burning phase. So they're going to look at things like hydrology, public health and safety, what areas may need to get some rehabilitation, what different resource effects that have happened and what we can do to mitigate any possible effects to public health and safety or to natural resource areas like wildlife, trails, recreation, hydrology, as I said, and other areas. So that team will be kicking off tomorrow, and it's going to be a process, and then we'll put together different reports on what work needs to be done to ensure that the area is fully taken care of after this fire is over.
Another question that was asked was, is the forest looking at forest closures for this fire season? I can say that that's something that's being discussed and we are continually assessing the need. I can say that we are already in Stage 2 fire restrictions, and what that means is that there's no campfires, no charcoal, no target shooting, and those measures to ensure that we're keeping fire starts to a minimum.
Again, I want to thank you for being patient with us and patient with the firefighters and helping us get to the point where we can get people back into their homes and back to normalcy. Again, thank you so much, and I'm available for questions.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Thanks, Matt. At this point we'll shift gears and move over and talk about the Central Fire. So we'll have Ralph come back up and give us an update on operations happening on the fire that we're taking over, over there.
>> RALPH LUCAS: Thank you, Michelle. The Central Fire, I'll squeeze off the camera here a little bit so we can see the Central Fire. This is the Bush Fire. This being the Central Fire. And what we've done is on a Type 1 Incident Management Team, we come with a lot of resources, for a reason. When you have a very large fire, one of the largest fires in Arizona state's history, we put some horsepower behind it. And that gives us capacity, it gives us capacity with people, it gives us capacity with fire engines on the ground, and it gives us capacity with resources in the air.
Knowing that, when this new start, we would call this a new start, occurred over here, east of New River, we had the capacity in speaking with the folks from the Tonto National Forest, Tom that you just had before you, knowing how we had the horsepower, we were able to reallocate our resources, some of our resources, over to the Central Fire. Most of those resources came off of this area, remember I told you this was looking really good, so we took some resources off, leaving several folks behind, and brought them over here to address this new fire. The cause is still unknown. It is currently 3,956 acres. It is 0 percent contained. And it has 192 personnel on it. It's broken into three divisions, A, which is Alpha, L, which is Lima, and Z which is Zulu. The fire started right on the border of state lands and Federal lands. Most of it obviously in the green area is within the Tonto National Forest.
So the fire ran up, up on top of the mesa, and then once it got into the grass, it started to spread laterally, side to side. In Division Alpha, that looks really good. This is off Mingus Road, which is right here. We had firefighters go up this western flank, there is a small structure right in here that firefighters were able to secure and save. And Division Alpha kind of worked around like this, feeling very confident about the western flank.
In addition, firefighters came over here down to Zulu and are working along this, but only until it gets to the base of the rim, at which point the fire goes up in elevation and across a plateau up there that is full of grass. And as we all know, grass spreads quickly when it has fire on it and even extremely fast when there is wind behind it.
So we're good as far as it comes out to about here, but all of this area right here on Division Lima and where it starts into Division Zulu was monitored by aircraft today. As we close out on this fire, we are going to add additional resources over here if needed. But when I last spoke to the Incident Commander on the Central Fire, he was confident with what they had going on, and thinks that we might be able to get around this thing and not see a drastic increase in acreage, but only time will tell depending on the weather and the wind.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Thanks, Ralph. At this point we'll go now to the Cave Creek District Ranger, Dave Ramirez. Did I get that wrong?
>> Good evening. Dave Ramirez. I am actually the south zone fire management officer. So I manage both the Mesa District and the Cave Creek Ranger District fire programs. So in the south zone, obviously it's been a very busy year for us, and actually the last two years have been very busy. Last year on the south zone, we burned, oh, roughly 150,000 acres, we had a very wet winter the year before last and had a lot of fine fuel growth. And then this year, another wet winter, back to back wet winters and we had a lot of residual grass from last year, and it has just been a monster of a season for us and extremely busy.
We have had 70 initial attack fires on this zone and a lot of those fires have been large wildfires. And it's, you know, folks are getting tired and it's been a pretty rough season for us. It's pretty exciting, you know, when we have incident management teams like Team 1, Type 1 team, a great bunch of people, and they have been a tremendous aid and support for us. They've done a great job on two fires that they've managed on this zone. And they've helped us with multiple initial attack fires that we've had trouble with.
The current field conditions, our wet winter that we had, March was the second wettest winter on record, and we get all these fine fuels, and you notice it in the Valley, lots of grass, lots of invasive weeds, and it really creates a fire problem for us. You know, it's really made for a challenging year for us, and we still have more season in front of us.
I just want to, you know, kind of shout out to my partners, all of the departments in the Valley, you know, our law enforcement partners, it has been a team effort and I'm so proud of where all of the valley resources are and their mutual aid responses and how they work together, the last couple years have really helped us be successful and the suppression of a lot of fires. At this last fire that we had, the initial attack was pretty robust, we had lots of Valley resources that were on scene, multiple agencies, multiple departments, and, you know, we've been pretty successful. This one, you know, even with the amount of resources that we had on hand, it managed to make it to the top of New River mesa, which this is the third year in a row that that mesa top has burned, and we just have a lot of grass and not much we can do about that.
But we've been very successful, and we haven't had any serious accidents or injuries, and, you know, it will continue to ‑‑ we'll continue to do our best. I will just say, please, really, as the season goes on, be careful with fires. This last fire that we had, it was in a popular shooting area, the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but really, you know, make sure that you're following the rules that we have in place for our Stage 2 restrictions. No campfires. No shooting. And no charcoal. So help us be successful. If you see people that are not following the restrictions that we have in place, please call 911 or the Tonto National Forest and we'll deal with that. If there are any questions about the season, working with some of our communities, any kind of fuels work, please let us know, and we can answer those questions for you.
Thanks for your support.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Thank you for that. So at this point, we are going to come back to questions here, but we want to wrap things up with our Incident Commander, Alan Sinclair.
>> ALAN SINCLAIR: Good evening. I'm Alan Sinclair, Incident Commander for Southwest Area Incident Management Team Team Number 1. I want to talk about the decision to take on both fires and why it makes sense to the team. When we were asked, I visited with the team a little bit to make sure that we would be able to give both fires the support that they need and the focus from the team and the firefighters that we needed to engage those fires. And we were able to do so. And I want to tell you why. This fire, as you can see, and Ralph pointed out, the black line on the fire, those are areas where the imminent threat has been reduced, so we're very confident that these lines are going to hold.
We did have this very technical burn that finished up about midnight last night, and if you're familiar with this area where Highway 87 and 188 meet, when you top out, where you can head up to Mount Ord or head down Slate Creek, there's a lot of terrain there, it's pretty steep, it's a narrow canyon, and the potential for that fire to get across 87 and move north was pretty high. When they finished that up last night, it put us in a much better spot.
There's still a threat there, but it's not as imminent as it was prior to that taking place. We knew that the potential for them to be successful with that was high, and we went ahead and made the decision to take both fires. It also made sense because the agencies that are involved in both fires were the same. Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management and the Tonto National Forest. We added another agency on the Central Fire, and that's the Bureau of Land Management. So they're not directly impacted, but they are in an area that if we're not successful initially could be impacted. So we've worked with them recently on the Sawtooth Fire, so we're familiar with everybody and it made sense to go ahead and accept the assignment.
So both fires are getting the attention they need, we'll support them both fully with the needs that they have, and I'm really proud of the work that the team and all the firefighters did on the Bush Fire and the work that's currently being done on the Central Fire.
The other thing I would like to talk about is the decision the forest made bringing the BAER team in tomorrow. That's a very important decision. The post‑fire effects of rain in this area have the potential to be very significant, and what happens when a landscape is denuded of vegetation due to fire is it increases runoff, and it has the potential for flooding. And this is a very significant topographical feature, Four Peaks, Mine Mountain, Pine Mountain, Boulder Mountain, Mount Ord, that whole range has a lot of drainages that come down off of it. So them getting a team in early to look at that and understand what impacts we might be seeing when we start getting our monsoons a very smart move. And I really appreciate that they have that forward thinking.
With that, thanks for your support. Please pay attention to the restrictions that are in place. It's been a busy fire season, our crews are getting tired. So give us a hand, and give us that support, and please pay attention to the things people are asking you not to do. Thank you.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Thanks, Alan. So right now, we're going to move to some questions and answers, address some of your questions out there. To follow Alan's comments there, one of the questions we've been getting is, how can folks help? Is there anything that the firefighters need? And really as they said, you know, following the restrictions in place, doing things around your home to be firewise, those are all fabulous things that really help us out in the long run.
Beyond that, social media, sharing, you know, if you are thankful for what the firefighters are doing, let them know on social media, it's helpful they're out and about working in different places, that's really the best way to reach them and pass on those messages there.
Beyond that, we're able to get food and water out to our firefighters, we take care of them, make sure they're getting the calories they need each day, working in this extreme heat, they're kind of athletes out there, really doing amazing work. So the little bit of support that you share, really goes a long way in boosting morale there.
To get to some of the questions about the fire and where we're at, I'll bring Ralph Lucas back up here and give him a chance to answer some of those questions live for us.
>> RALPH LUCAS: All right. Go ahead.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: First question, when is Highway 87 going to reopen?
>> RALPH LUCAS: That's a great question. I know a lot of you are concerned about the 87 road, and we are going to start entertaining the idea of opening up the 87 road probably in about two days, but I want folks out there to understand the reason why we have it closed. One, we still have active fire along the roadway. Two, I've got about maybe 300 firefighters up and down that road. Hotshot crews walking up and down the road, trying to do their job and mitigate the fire. So from a safety standpoint of the firefighters, that's one.
Secondly, there's some infrastructure damage that exists in the way of the guardrails and things along the roadway, the guardrails have fallen down, they have been burned through due to the high intensity of the fire, and we need to work with the stakeholders ADOT and such to make sure that we can at least open up the roadway and it's safe for travelers.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: The other question, when do we anticipate any changes in the status to Sunflower and their set phase?
>> RALPH LUCAS: When can we anticipate changes to the area of Sunflower and their 'SET' stage? I would say in the next 24 hours, we'll be releasing something as it relates to Sunflower. We have currently brought fire around Sunflower to protect it, and that has been successful. But common protocol for us is to stand by for about a 24‑hour period to make sure that it's very secure and we can release those sets.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Next question, the use of aerial resources, how are helicopters and aviation resources helping us out on this fire?
>> RALPH LUCAS: That's a really good question. We get a lot of questions about this as a team and as firefighters. It's hard, it's very hard to understand. So it may seem as simple as bringing in the large air tankers that drop all the retardant and stuff like that, but retardant is just that, it retards the fire from moving through a certain area. It slows it down. It doesn't stop it. You have to have firefighters on the ground to go and back that up.
So the reason why we haven't been using a lot of retardant in the last few days is simply because the terrain and smoke. There's such a high volume of smoke and so much terrain, you cannot get a large aircraft through that. So we're having to rely on helicopters, which are rotary wing, call the big airplanes fixed wing. Helicopters are rotary wing. We've been using helicopters. The analogy I can explain to you in using a helicopter would be like you probably remember standing around a campfire sometime in your life. Imagine taking a cup of water and grabbing a teaspoon and putting the teaspoon on your campfire. On a big campfire, it has very little effect.
This is a big, very large fire. So even with these large helicopters, we can just put out little areas to protect our firefighters while they're doing their work, but the fire is so lark, it's going to keep on moving. So I hope that analogy kind of explains that.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: And where do those aircraft come from?
>> RALPH LUCAS: We situate aircraft strategically when we're working a fire. So on this fire, we have some at Falcon Field, we have some in Payson, we have them in Globe and then the large air tankers because of what they require as far as a runway are out of your major airports in the Phoenix metro area. Some of them can land in smaller tanker bases, like Prescott and Winslow where they can add on more retardant and then take off again.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Okay.
>> RALPH LUCAS: Thanks.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: So one of our next questions is, what are some of the mitigations in place due to COVID‑19? So we'll have our Incident Commander Alan Sinclair address that.
>> ALAN SINCLAIR: So first, I'll let you know why we're paired for COVID within our community. As wildland firefighters, they're out working in rough conditions, breathing smoky air, oftentimes camped out, camping is not real easy to keep clean all the time. So the conditions we work in and end up living in are prime for viral spread. The wildland community has been preparing when we saw COVID surfacing and saw that it was kind of on a collision course with fire season, we started preparing.
So what we were asking our crews to do is maintain a module of, one, separation from other crews. So if an engine is working together, that would be considered a module one. A hotshot crew of 20 people would be considered a module of one. So we're really trying to limit contact between crews. We're asking people to wear masks when we are engaged outside of that module of one, in close proximity with other people. So for us, that's during our briefings and during our meetings, and anytime we're coming in contact with other people.
And it's really important, you know, the wildland workforce isn't huge nationally. We're a transient workforce. This team represents the Southwest Incident Management Team 1. But once our monsoons come, we'll be around the rest of the country, so as we're moving around, we don't want to be having COVID impacting the folks that are moving around the country, and we certainly don't want to be the source of an outbreak this some of the communities that we're going to go serve this summer.
So we're asking people to do simple things. Wear masks when they're engaged. Wash their hands and maybe taken the module of one separation.
>> MICHELLE FIDLER: Thanks, Alan. A lot of our other questions, the answers are available on Inciweb.gov and our Inciweb.nwcg.gov and that's our fire information website. So on that you can find information for current road status as changes occur. Those updates will be posted on AZ511.gov which is linked too off our website. You can also call 511 for current road information here in Arizona.
Other information that you can find online includes information on current evacuation status. We have links there to sign up for our County partners, to sign up for their emergency alerts. You can follow their Facebook pages and social media to get updates there as well when those conditions change, and we'll be sure to share that information as soon as it changes as well.
And then the last thing I want to mention is the smoke outlook. We know smoke is a significant concern and affecting lots of folks. We have an air outlook resource which is also shared on Inciweb, we post it each day, and our air resource advisor wasn't able to join us tonight but his video was shared earlier on our Facebook page, and we have a link to that on Inciweb as well.
We realize we may not have hit on every single question here tonight, so we encourage you to give us a call or reach out to us by e‑mail. We'll continue to post updates on Inciweb and social media here to continue to get the message out, and we hope that we're able to address some of your concerns here tonight.
So with that, we thank you for your support for our firefighters, especially here on Father's Day, and we look forward to continuing to provide updates throughout the course of the fire here. Have a good night.
(The meeting has concluded)
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