Saguaro National Park Recognized for Excellence in Fire Management

Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Cohesive Strategy – Maintain and Restore Resilient Landscapes *
Cohesive Strategy – Response to Wildfire *

Paul Gleason Memorial Keeper of the Flame Award

Fire Management Officer John Thornburg Accepts Award for Saguaro National Park
Fire Management Officer John Thornburg Accepts Award for Saguaro National Park

NPS Photo / Michelle Fidler

Saguaro National Park was honored with the Paul Gleason Memorial Keeper of the Flame Award at the National Park Service Intermountain Regional (IMR) Visitor and Resource Protection Leadership Training in Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 11, 2015.

This regional award recognizes an IMR program that has exhibited exemplary planning, management, leadership, implementation, intra-divisional and interagency cooperation in regards to managing a wildland fire management program, specifically while managing an active wildland fire.

Saguaro National Park was recognized for its successful management of the Deer Head and the Jackalope Fires during the 2014 fire season. Although both fires were started by lightning and within the Saguaro Wilderness, fire managers carefully evaluated each fire on their own merits to determine the most appropriate and efficient management strategy.

Managing Wildfire in the Fire Adapted Ponderosa Pine Ecosystem

The Deer Head Fire was ignited on July 24, 2014 in the higher elevations of the Rincon Mountains within a fire adapted ponderosa pinelands community. This area has been frequented by wildfire, having burned nine times since 1937.

Park managers decided to manage the fire for multiple objectives. Over the course of the next several weeks, fire personnel adapted and effectively responded to ever-changing environmental conditions. Managers also employed wilderness values by utilized existing trails and natural barriers as control features. Mule teams were used to haul supplies and gear in an effort to minimize aerial flights into and over the wilderness area. Burnout operations were planned and conducted to protect sensitive park resources, including the historic Manning Camp cabin. Additionally personnel carefully coordinated operations with the park staff as well as the Arizona State’s Air Quality Bureau. On August 15, 2014 the 1,097-acre fire was declared controlled. 


Suppressing Wildfire in the Fire Sensitive Sonoran Desert

In contrast, the 30-acre Jackalope Fire was detected on July 31, 2014 and fire management took quick and decisive action to suppress it. This fire was located near the transition zone between the fire-adapted forests in the upper elevations and the fire-sensitive Sonoran Desert vegetation found in the lower elevations. Additionally this fire was also in close proximity to a population of buffelgrass, an invasive species that could allow the fire to quickly spread downslope and harm or destroy the sensitive cactus and desert floor vegetation below.

Additionally, restoring native vegetation in areas where fire adapted buffelgrass has burned is extremely difficult. Firefighters were flown in by helicopter to begin suppressing the fire on the afternoon it was reported. The helicopter also dropped water from a bucket to help suppress the fire. It was contained at 30 acres on August 2, 2014, without reaching buffelgrass

Throughout these incidents, Saguaro National Park Fire Management Officer John Thornburg and his staff kept the region well informed and current on their situation. In the end, both fires successfully protected and/or enhanced park resources as well as were managed in a cost-effective manner.


Contact: John Thornburg, Interagency Fire Management Officer for Saguaro National Park and the Santa Catalina Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest


Phone: (520) 733-5130

Last updated: December 15, 2017