Southern Arizona's forests were toasted by major fires this summer, but much of the natural beauty remains, forest managers said Friday, as they invited the public to go take a look for themselves.
With the reopening of roads and trails in the Chiricahua National Monument today, most of the fire-ravaged portions of the Coronado National Forest are now accessible.
Caution is urged. Flooding can still occur in the damaged watersheds of the Huachuca and Chiricahua mountains, and burned trees will be falling, said forest spokeswoman Heidi Schewel.
"We all lived through it, that's the important thing," said Schewel at a news conference also attended by the teams working to begin restoring the forests.
The safety of the public and the firefighters was the primary concern throughout the fire season, said Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch.
Eighty-two fires burned 365,000 acres of the Coronado this year and 100 structures, including 70 homes, were lost.
The bright spot is that "no lives were lost in all the fires and there were no serious injuries," Upchurch said.
Fire managers were able to hold down fire intensity under explosive conditions, Upchurch said.
Only 7 percent of the 32,000-acre Monument Fire in the Huachuca Mountains burned at high severity.
On the Horseshoe 2 Fire, about 7 percent of the 223,000 acres burned severely, Upchurch said.
Upchurch said the "unusual action" of closing the forest on June 9 this year proved effective. Only one major fire started after that.
The Monument Fire began June 12 at the south end of the Coronado National Memorial, near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The forest habitat has been altered but not destroyed, said Jim Paxon of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
"Fire is neither good nor bad. Fire is neutral," Paxon said.
Most animals escaped the flames, he said.
The big exception, he said, is the Gould's turkey, which his agency has been introducing into Arizona forests since 1983. Turkey offspring had not yet "fledged" when the fires hit and couldn't escape, he said.
Game and Fish found one dead mountain lion, a couple of bobcats and "a very limited number of deer" after fires burned more than 1 million acres of Arizona forest land this summer, said Paxon.
No bears perished in the fires, but the loss of forage to drought and fire has driven them into contact with humans, with 20 bears being relocated or killed, he said.
Five bears were euthanized and one was electrocuted after climbing a power pole, said Mark Hart, Game and Fish spokesman.
Paxon urged forest visitors to be "bear aware."
A Pinetop woman was killed by a bear in June. Paxon noted that was the first fatal bear attack recorded in Arizona since a grizzly attack in the 1880s. Grizzlies have not been seen in Arizona since the 1930s.
For details on what's open and closed in Coronado National Forest, see:
Contact reporter Tom Beal at email@example.com or 573-4158.
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