Next Steps After Woodbury Fire

Following the evacuation of Tonto National Monument due to the Woodbury Fire, staff leadership had to develop a plan to repopulate the Monument. Visitor/staff safety and the protection of resources were the driving factors behind all decisions that were made.

When the fire crew determined it was safe to access limited areas of the Monument, maintenance staff were the first to return and make sure basic operations were functioning. This included refilling water tanks that were emptied during firefighting efforts and clearing out sediment from water lines.

After this, a hydrologist was brought into the park to project how water during the coming monsoon season would flow on the newly burnt landscape. After his assessment, Jersey barriers were placed along drainages and near park infrastructure where flooding was most likely to occur. As of the writing of this article, the monsoon season is still delayed with only limited rain having fallen within the Monument’s boundary.

Burn severity maps were created for the entire Woodbury Fire burn scar. By displaying how severely areas were burned, staff were able to make better decisions on how to respond. These maps showed only low to moderate severity fire occurred within Tonto National Monument.

Upon their return, park archeologists with the assistance of firefighters removed fire retardant wrapping from the prehistoric wood located in the Lower and Upper Cliff Dwellings. The wrapping succeeded and nothing was lost in either cliff dwelling during the fire. Additional sites within the park were resurveyed with the help of the Sonoran Desert Inventory and Monitoring Network (LINK), to see how they were affected. Archeologists inspected for burn damage on rocks and burnt areas around sites that could cause erosion. Only limited damage has been initially observed at these sites due to clearing of vegetation that was done around them in previous years.

Limited research has been done on how the vegetation of the Sonoran Desert recovers after a fire. Tonto NM will help to add to this knowledge by studying vegetation plots that were established and observed years before the Woodbury Fire. These plots were again observed and recorded within the weeks following the fire. Monitoring will continue to occur into the future to see how vegetation returns post-fire to the Sonoran Desert. Even in the weeks and months following the fire, vegetation has begun to return to the landscape.

Last updated: August 31, 2019

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