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Mon, Aug. 03

Prescribed burn escapes control<br>

An air tanker out of Prescott, Ariz., douses the Long Jim fire, which escaped control last Wednes-day.

The fire, dubbed Long Jim III, was planned to eliminate understory forest fuels and reduce wildfire risk on 1,620 acres that had not been burned in at least 100 years, said Fire Suppression Officer Jim Kitchen. The prescribed burn area was bordered by South Entrance Road on the west and East Rim Drive to the north.

Fire Information Officer Sam Whitted characterized the operation as a medium-sized burn and said officials believed there had been enough moisture in April to safely carry it out.

Hand-ignition of the perimeter started at about 6 that morning, and aerial ignition followed, starting at about 9 a.m., commencing at around 11 a.m.

Morning winds and moisture levels were favorable for the burn, but by noon moisture levels dropped as winds rose and shifted direction, carrying embers across the fire’s northern boundary at Desert View Drive and igniting spot fires.

While fire crews worked to contain the fires, officials initiated a precautionary evacuation in the northeast section of Grand Canyon Village and the South Entrance Station closed to all but residential traffic. A portion of Desert View Drive was also closed. Within 15 minutes, the escaped blazes were under control and the evacuation was downgraded to advisory status. Shortly after that, the South Entrance Station reopened to visitors.

According to Fire and Aviation Chief Dan Oltrogge a heavy air tanker was brought in from Prescott, Ariz., to suppress the portions of the blaze that escaped the designated area, and a bulldozer was used as well to prevent the fire from spreading west toward the Village’s residential area. Helicopters also aided in the suppression effort.

By that evening, fire officials contained the escaped fire, which burned about 285 acres outside the prescribed area, according to Fire Information Officer Donna Nemeth. She said about 65 firefighters were assigned to the prescribed burn and another 20 or so came in to help once the blaze jumped the line. Clean-up and suppression continued into Saturday with park crews being aided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Tusayan Fire Department and private contractors.

While no structures were threatened or damaged, the fire moved into a power line corridor, destroying a power pole and more than $10,000 in related equipment owned by Arizona Public Service. Power was out at Desert View for about eight hours as a result, said Don Keil of APS.

According officials, significant resource benefits were derived from the prescribed portion, despite the fact that the fire escaped.

“When a major wildland fire moves through an area that’s been burned like this, it lays right down,” said Whitted.

According to Nemeth, the fire well within the controlled burn boundaries was allowed to proceed and that area will smoulder for some time. She said the park will also continue with another prescribed burn this spring, south of the developed area, if conditions allow.

“We hope to do that sometime in the spring. The window will be closing shortly,” she said.

Two more prescribed burns are planned for the North Rim in the fall, she said.

In response to resident complaints and concerns, the e park’s Branch of Fire and Aviation hosted a community meeting yesterday evening to review and discuss the fire. That meeting was held after press time.

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