TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — We were watching the mountains this time last year as a new wildfire was building. For a time, the Bighorn Fire was the highest priority in a busy fire season.
Now, the people who fought it are assessing how it could still be a danger.
The Bighorn Fire burned almost 120 thousand acres---187 square miles. You can see much of the burn scar in the fires effect on Catalina State Park.
A year after the fire, authorities are still worried about flooding and runoff. The dry summer means plants have been slow to grow back so there’s not as much protective cover to slow rain runoff and reduce the chance of a mudslide.
Christina Thiel of the U.S. Forest Service says, “This isn’t where you see the homes. This is where the rainfall will hit and run off and get into our municipal areas so we work very closely with the Pima County Regional Flood Control to share our modeling of what we think the runoff will result in, what type of flood events.”
The Forest Service uses methods like spreading mulch, and trying to establish new plants to hold in the soil and mitigate the damage of runoff and mudslides. Things like mulch barriers to hold in the soil and plants to keep it in place.
But the Forest Service says it could not give this land the full treatment because COVID concerns restricted their ability to take the usual steps to stabilize burn zones.
The fire burned further up Mount Lemmon but tree clearings by the Forest Service and tribal groups before the fire helped steer it clear of homes on the mountain.
Forest Service Firefighter Steven Miranda remembers fighting the fire. He knew it would be one of the toughest when he saw where it started and how winds pumped it up.
Normally land burned in earlier fires will slow or stop a new fire because there’s less to burn but in parts of Mount Lemmon debris left from the Aspen Fire 17 year before made the Bighorn Fire burn hotter.
Miranda says, “We had heavy logs on the ground. It intensified the fire quite dramatically and that resulted in the large fire day that we had.”
Now, the same people who fought the Bighorn Fire, watch and worry about the next one they know could come. We’ve been in a deep drought and one spark from nature---or maybe you could start a new, and even bigger fire.