Navajo Hotshots try to control a spot fire as the Wallow Fire continues to rage in Arizona

Wallow Fire Now Largest in Arizona History; Apache Reservations Spared

ICTMN Staff
6/14/11

The Wallow Fire, though currently 18% contained, according to officials, has become the largest forest fire in Arizona history, AZCentral.com reports. By 7:30 AM on June 14, it had burned 469,000 acres in Arizona and New Mexico, surpassing the previous figure of 468,000 acres charred by the Rodeo-Chedeski blaze in 2002.

Officials say that all Arizona communities are currently safe, although there remains a potential threat for Greer, Alpine, Nutrioso and Luna (New Mexico).

The material toll for this fire is, at present, significantly less than that of Rodeo-Chedeski. The 2002 fire consumed 465 homes; to date Wallow has destroyed just 31.

For the Indians of Arizona, the difference this time around is night and day. According to a different article on AZCentral.com, this one published June 12, 60% of Rodeo-Chedeski's devastation was on Tribal lands. Wallow has only minimally affected the two large Apache reservations in the area, charring the southeast corner of the Fort Apache Reservation (home of the White Mountain Apache Tribe) and the northeast corner of the San Carlos Reservation (the two reservations share a border). The June 12 AZCentral.com article included comments from Apaches who credited prayer and sweat-lodge ceremonies for minimizing the destruction on tribal lands. But it also pointed to steps taken to thin the forest, and a preventive blaze set last year just west of the area affected by Wallow.

Indeed, the a map of the fire tells a story of a blaze that started just outside the reservation border and spread almost entirely eastward and away from Indian lands. Southwesterly winds were also a major factor; Marco Minjarez, a White Mountain Apache fire prevention officer, told AZCentral.com that if the winds were to shift, they could drive the fire into a vulnerable stretch of the reservation with no natural barrier to its progress.

The June 12 AZCentral.com article also pointed out that fire damage to land off the reservation will nonetheless have an effect on the Apaches' way of life. For instance, trees in the upper reaches of the Black River and its tributaries were consumed by the blaze, and later this year the river will likely be saturated with an ashy sludge. "It's going to be a bad sight to see," Minjarez said.

While the fire seems to have spared places of spiritual and economic importance to the Apaches—notably Mt. Baldy and the Sunrise Park Ski Resort—conditions are hazardous. An Associated Press article reported that over the weekend of June 11-12, soot particles in the air in eastern Arizona were nearly 20 times the federal health standard. Bill Greenwood, Town manager of Eagar, Arizona, in Apache County, told AP that "Even when the word is given that you can come home, there's still going to be some air quality issues."

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