USFS – How the 2011 Wallow Fire Fuel Treatments Saved Homes

Wallow Fire - fuel treatmentsThe massive Wallow Fire, which burned in eastern Arizona, during June of 2011 was the largest fire in the State’s history, burning over 500,000 acres.

A detailed study and document was produced by the USFS, called: How Fuel Treatments Saved Homes from the 2011 Wallow Fire

The study cites numerous examples of treatments or thinning, along with photos,  to demonstrate how land and property were saved.  An excerpt from the report quotes a fire manager:

“When the fire came over the ridge toward Alpine it sounded like a freight
train. The smoke column was bent over making it difficult to see. Without
the fuel treatment effects of reducing flame lengths and defensible space
around most houses, we would have had to pull back our firefighters. Many
of the houses would have caught fire and burned to the ground.”
said Jim Aylor, Fire Management Officer
Alpine Fire District

Another excerpt from the report: Triple—Knock-Out—Punch
When the Wallow Fire tries to burn into the communities of Alpine and Greer, a “triple punch” helps to thwart and stop this high-intensity crown fire before it reaches homes:
1. Prior Fuel Treatments.
2. Quick and Effective Firefighter Suppression Actions.
3. “Firewise” and defensible space pre-fire actions by homeowners.

See study here: How Fuel Treatments Saved Homes from the 2011 Wallow Fire


The Little Bear Fire burned over 40,000 acres, where little if any treatments have been done – due to wilderness. One area, near Bonito Lake had a USFS thinning project proposed, only to be delayed with challenges from environmental groups.  Otherwise, there were areas on private land that were burned with less intensity ( ground fire ) because of prior thinning by land owners.

The LBFRC will work to advance and publicize treatment projects, some of which have been in the planning stages for years. In a meeting with our group, Dave Warnack, USFS Forester with the Smokey Bear Ranger District, gave details on how areas around Ruidoso have been treated, and agreed that more work was needed around the south and west side of Ruidoso.

Funding is always an issue, and usually the factor which gets these projects off the ground. Two “high priority” areas for thinning,  Grindstone Mesa and Cedar Creek, have been identified by local agencies. A grant proposal from South Central Mountain – RC&D Council is in the planning stages.

Today’s fires burning in the West, often burn with such intensity, and in such difficult weather conditions, that makes them impossible to stop. Treated areas, along with logged,  grazed, or “control burned” areas may offer the only means of getting a crown fire to the ground where it can be suppressed. Fires will occur in our forest. The issue is now is how they burn, and how destructive they are.


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