WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Despite the approval by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to resume burning operations, Kaibab National Forest managers chose not to resume fall prescribed fire projects pending the outcome of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) investigation into a fatal accident on I-40 Oct. 19.
The accident occurred in the early morning hours near the Pittman Valley area between Williams and Parks. DPS officers said smoke from a nearby prescribed burn was a factor in the accident.
Kaibab forest managers had just begun the Green Base prescribed burn the week of Oct. 16 when heavy smoke collected in the Pitman Valley, resulting in numerous accidents, including a fatality, and a five-hour road closure.
Kaibab National Forest had planned to burn approximately 14,181 acres with the project. Smoke from the Green Base project was expected to be visible from Interstate 40, Spring Valley, Highway 180, Kendrick Park, and possibly the northern portions of Flagstaff.
According to Kaibab Public Information Officer Jackie Banks, all prescribed burns on the Kaibab were suspended after the I-40 fatality and there are no plans for new ignitions.
“We’re still waiting on the investigation with DPS,” Banks said. “We’re trying to participate with that and make ourselves available for that as much as we can.”
Banks said prescribed burns started before the I-40 incident are being allowed to burn, but no additional ignitions have been approved.
“The McCracken prescribed fire had already been completed prior to moving to the area north of the interstate,” Banks said. “If there’s any smoke in that area it’s simply smoldering from interior logs.”
Banks said fire personnel are patrolling the McCracken area to ensure the fire stays within the designated boundaries.
According to Banks, the Kaibab is required to get approval through ADEQ prior to initiating a prescribed burn.
ADEQ has a smoke management plan that works to reduce smoke impacts because of prescribed or controlled burning of nonagricultural fuels with particular regard to heavy forest fuels. All state lands, parks and forests, as well as any federally managed lands in Arizona, are under the jurisdiction of ADEQ in matters relating to air pollution from prescribed burning.
According to ADEQ Public Information officer Caroline Oppleman, upon learning of the accidents Oct. 19, ADEQ immediately set an informal statewide moratorium on prescribed burns out of an abundance of caution and respect for all parties involved. The moratorium was lifted Oct. 24.
“Other units (National Forests) have been putting in requests for prescribed burns,” Banks said. “The Kaibab hasn’t put in any requests for additional prescribed burning at this point.”
Forest managers had just completed the McCracken prescribed burn project six miles south of Williams prior to ignition of the Green Base project. The burn treated 2,532 acres that were ignited using a helicopter.
According to Banks, the McCracken Project continues to burn but no additional ignitions have been conducted.
According to a Kaibab National Forest press release, fire managers had planned a number of other prescribed fires for the fall and winter on each of its three ranger districts depending on fuel moistures and weather conditions.