Cramer's Corner Special Edition re Fire on Frog Mountain
- Dear Friends,
I've had a bunch of calls and e mails about the situation. Here it is as
best I know it, and keep in mind that things change hour by hour.
The Aspen Fire, as it inappropriately named, began last Tuesday, near the
top of Frog Mountain (Mt. Lemmon) about a mile from the village of
Summerhaven, the setting for The View from Frog Mountain. The winds were
and are high up there, 30- 60 miles per hour some afternoons, and of course,
we rarely have rain this time of year The "monsoons" are not due for at
least two weeks. We're also in a three year drought and bark beetles have
taken advantage of the situation to attack a lot of trees and make them
vulnerable. Add a century of official federal policy of fire suppression
and we have the makings of a perfect firestorm.
The blaze has grown day by day, and by Friday had reached the edge of the
village. Then there was an explosion as crown fire erupted and within an
hour the village was afire. Of the 400 structures which include small
cabins, large chalets, businesses and public offices, it's estimated that
300-325 are gone, though the data keeps changing since the smoke and heat
and wind are preventing access and assessment. About 100 people lived there
year round, several hundred others used their homes periodically. Frog Mt.
is also in the minds and hearts of Tucsonans as a place to visit to escape
the summer heat and to see and ski some snow in winter. Families from all
over this area and all walks of life have camped, fished, and hiked the
mountain for literally hundreds of years.
The ski lift and lodge are some distance from the village. There are
conflicting reports about its condition. Some radio towers nearby are down
and a U. of Arizona observatory is threatened though not as severely as
yesterday. Fire crews worked through the night to secure it.
From my house in central Tucson, we can see the smoke very clearly. The
fire is specifically located in the back range of the Santa Catalina Mts.
and so is partially blocked by the front range which faces town. This
morning I drove a road north which parallels the mountain range, and there I
could clearly see the flames, the progressing of the whole fire, and the
continuing major and minor explosions of treetops.
Right now about 13,000 acres have been consumed and the fire is heading for
the towns of Oracle and San Manuel on the far side of the Catalinas,
although the firefighters are confident that the winds will shift before the
towns face real danger. There are also some natural barriers that should
help. Townspeople are living with a pall of smoke, and I just heard it's
"snowing ash" there.
The Summerhaven refugees are holing up at a resort, free of charge, and the
community here is supporting them as best it can.
When I was writing the book, I spent a lot of time in Summerhaven. Although
the characters and decor are imaginary, the places themselves are described
as they existed in real time at that point, and so they are indelibly etched
in my memory. The buildings, trails, streets, and landmarks are as
faithfully rendered as I could make them.
Luke has friends who grew up on the mountain in the cabin their family has
owned for half a century. They graciously let me use it as "basecamp" while
I was writing.
If you all have seen coverage on the national news, it has been pretty
accurate, though the human component is harder to see from the panoramic
shots and sound bites from the networks.
The good news is that no one has been physically hurt.
I don't know how many of these holocausts it will take to convince the
Forest Service to spend the time and resources necessary to secure the
health of this
country's surviving woodlands. Last year, Arizona alone lost nearly a
million acres. This year has seen precious little progress in the clearing
undergrowth and the kinds of prescribed burns it will take to address the
damage done from long-term neglect. Fifteen years ago, Chuck Bowden,
who kindly put the blurb on the back of my book, wrote one himself called
Frog Mountain Blues. In it, he diagnosed the problem and predicted this
very outcome. It was a clarion call that sadly went unheeded.
Needless to say, I am heartbroken and angry. I intend to stay on here till
the fire is out, even though we'd planned to start back to KC the second
week of July. I just can't walk away from it, even though my contribution
is just helping to supply the fire crews with bottled water and energy bars.
Maybe the rains will come early.
Take good care.