NORTH RIM — For more than two months, three lightning-sparked fires on the North Rim were allowed to burn by fire managers as a method of resource management.
Last week, however, the Vista fire grew with the onset of unseasonably high temperatures and low humidity. With several more days of hot and dry weather in the forecast, firefighters and support personnel were sent to the scene to get the fire under control and manage the effects of smoke.
The smoke impacts on the air quality at Grand Canyon was a main concern, according to the Northern Arizona Type II Incident Management Team, which assumed management of the fire last week.
"Smoke from the fires is affecting visibility in the morning as smoke settles in the Canyon at night," fire information officer Mary Stuever said in a news release. "Visibility will improve through the day as daily heating lifts smoke out of the Canyon, and as such, viewing opportunities are best in the afternoon."
Stuever added that smoke levels were expected to decrease through firefighting efforts.
Smoke levels did not rise to Environmental Protection Agency threshold levels which would have prompted a health advisory. How-ever, active children, people who regularly engage in outdoor activities and those with pre-existing respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic lung disease were advised that they may experience shortness of breath and should exercise caution when outdoors.
Carl Bowman, GCNP air quality specialist, said smoke from the three fires was being monitored frequently to assess the impacts on park visitors and employees.
At last report, the Vista fire had burned 3,658 acres on the Walhalla Plateau about four miles east of the North Rim Visitor Center.
It increased about 500 acres in size on Sept. 23 alone, driven by winds out of the east. The blaze’s status changed from wildland management to wildfire on that day.
Fire personnel at the scene increased throughout the week. Full containment of the fire was expected by Sunday night.
The two remaining fires, the Swamp Ridge and the Tower fires, were still being managed by a National Wildland Fire Use Team "to meet resource objectives." The Swamp Ridge fire intensified somewhat early in the week and was being closely monitored. As of last Saturday, the fire had burned 2,382 acres.
The Tower fire, encompassing 1,764 acres, intensifed over the weekend but was still termed as a resource management fire.
Trail and road closures were implemented last week and at last report, were still in effect. On Saturday, the Point Sublime Road (W-1) was closed from its junction with the Tiyo Pint Road (W-1d) west to Point Sublime (terminus of the road).
The Tower fire area was also closed.
A few other North Rim area roads were closed early last week. Cape Royal Road and all trails on the Walhalla Plateau, as well as the old Bright Angel Trail, were closed. The Kanabownits Road (W-4) from its intersection with Forest Road 268 south to Point Sublime Road (W-1) was closed. And the Swamp Ridge Road from its intersection with the Kanabownits Road to Swamp Point was closed.
FS Road 268 also remained closed. Tiyo Point and Widforss Point remained open.
(Editor’s note: Information for this story was based on information as of last weekend. For the latest information on the fires, call 638-7819).