KGUN 9NewsWildfire Watch


A new thinning project will help prevent the spread of wildfires on Mount Lemmon

U.S. Forest Service staff hope the project will keep communities, and the forest, at the top of the mountain as safe as possible.
Forest Thinning
Posted at 7:34 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-01 15:01:34-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A project aimed at reducing the spread of wildfires is starting soon at the top of Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountain Range.

The process called thinning will remove smaller trees known as ladder fuels.

Ian Morgan is the Coronado National Forest Fire Management Officer. He said “they’re called ladder fuels because fire climbs up those small trees and it gets into the big trees, and then you’ll get 200 foot flame lengths.”

This map provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows the areas that the project will cover, which is expected to be completed Feb. 28, 2023.

Thinning Map
Map of areas to be thinned by February 2023 on Mount Lemmon.

This project is under the Catalina- Rincon Restoration project and will cover a total of 500 acres of the forest. The work will be performed under contracts and agency agreements with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Morgan said homes, communities, and the infrastructure at the top of the mountain are values that need to be protected. “We’re hoping to reduce risk to all of these components,” he said.

These thinning projects not only contribute to fire safety for local communities. Mount Lemmon Fire District Fire Captain Dan Leade said thinning helps firefighters manage the intensity of wildfires.

“In the 20 years I’ve been in this business, especially in wildfire, I’ve had the opportunity to fight fires in forests that have been managed through thinning, and fires that haven’t. Certainly the intensity of the fire, the speed of which it moves, and just the overall danger level goes up when forests are not treated before the fire arrives,” he said.

Leade said thinning also contributes to a healthier forest. He explained, “fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, so when fire comes through at a lower intensity it will provide nutrients back into the soil and will take out some of the smaller plants that are competing for resources with the larger plants.”

The contract for the project begins Sept. 1 and the U.S. Forest Service staff hope crews will be moving in within the next week. Similar projects will continue on the mountain throughout the next three years to prevent the spread of wildfires.

Throughout the project visitors and locals may experience delays or temporary closures, but Morgan said this is not likely.

Reyna Preciado is a reporter for KGUN 9, she joined the KGUN 9 team in July of 2022 after graduating Arizona State University. Share your story ideas with Reyna by emailing or by connecting on Instagram, or Twitter.