Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Invasive Grass Fuels Treatment in WUI

Saguaro National Park, Arizona
National Fire Plan, Fuels Reduction*

Interns baggin a recently pulled buffelgras plant.

The invasive weed, buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare), has vigorously expanded in the Sonoran Desert over the past two decades. Buffelgrass has unprecedented fuel loads of up to 4 tons/acre in Saguaro National Park. Saguaro National Park was established in 1933, and since that time, urban growth has expanded up to the park boundary. Wildfires in buffelgrass threaten not only the park's signature plant, the saguaro cactus, and the entire Sonoran Desert ecosystem, but also the lives and property of area residents.

Data collected in the park suggest that herbicide application is an effective tool in preventing the spread of buffelgrass and in decreasing fire threat in sites that are already dominated by buffelgrass, reducing the fuel load by one third in 1.5 years and two thirds in 3.5 years. However, herbicide control must be done when at least fifty percent of the grass's leaves are green.

Interns and park employees spraying buffelgrass along a road in Saguaro National Park, adjacent to houses. Photos by Perry Grissom, NPS.

In 2009, the park hired a crew of three Student Conservation Association interns to treat buffelgrass along all roads within or bordering the Tucson Mountain District of the park. Most roads were sprayed by the beginning of August, but a lack of sustained precipitation caused mature plants to become dormant and prevented seed germination. Herbicide application was suspended and hand removal was conducted until late rains caused more green-up and a small germination event. During the project, a total of 69 acres of buffelgrass were treated (14 acres of manual removal and 55 acres of herbicide control).

According to park superintendent Darla Sidles, "the project was a success because of the collaboration of the employees from all divisions within the park." The most challenging component of the project was working along a busy, winding road with no shoulder. A safety plan and traffic control plan were implemented in close coordination with law enforcement rangers and an independent contractor. Approximately two tons of buffelgrass were removed manually along this three-mile stretch of road.

Contact: Perry Grissom, Fire Ecologist
Phone: (520) 733-5134

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.