As Telegraph Fire nears containment, a first look at the damage
A thunderstorm approaches the charred landscape around Pinal Peak near Claypool on June 23, 2021. Firefighters and environmentalists hope monsoon rains will quickly revive vegetation. (Photo by Gianluca D’Elia / Cronkite News)
GLOBE – Behind closed road signs in evacuated small towns 90 miles east of the Phoenix subway, blackened trees stand covered in pink fire retardant as dust from the Telegraph Fire’s ash swirls around.
Since it started on June 4, the wildfire has ravaged nearly 180,750 acres in the Tonto National Forest, damaging 52 structures but causing no injuries or deaths. Firefighters opened some affected areas to journalists on Wednesday, offering a first glimpse of the fire, which was 89% under control Thursday afternoon.
The Telegraph Fire is one of the largest Arizona wildfires in state history. Last year’s bush fire spread over 193,000 acres, according to InciWeb, an interagency forest fire information system. The 2011 Wallow Fire, Arizona’s largest, burned more than 500,000 acres.
Public information officials for the blaze said Telegraph’s growth has been fueled by excessive heat, long-term drought and high winds.
The area southwest of Globe is accustomed to seasonal wildfires and is expected to recover, said Molly Hunter, University of Arizona fire ecologist and Telegraph Fire public information officer Virginia Price .
Pushing back the scorched ground along a trail off State Route 77, Hunter discovered dirt that was still light brown. She said the soil, grass and plants in the area have mostly burned on their surface and will grow back within a year. The loss of shrub cover also helps reduce additional fire threats.
“There’s char on it and ash, but the bark is still there,” Hunter said, crouching over a burnt bush and examining its bare branches. “Once you get some moisture it will start to produce new leaves.
“Grasses, in particular, will love this fire. As long as there is significant humidity this year, next year you will see the grasses bounce back.
Lower temperatures and rains on Wednesday helped efforts to contain the blaze. Now that the monsoon season has arrived, the expected storms will help restore ground moisture to Gila County.
For days, planes also dropped a retarder containing fertilizer to slow the fire and restore soil moisture.
Firefighters from as far away as Madras, Oregon responded to the Telegraph blaze. Northwest Team 6 Division Supervisor Bob Sjolund has spent the past two weeks on the firing lines. He said residents of nearby towns and the ecosystem itself await rains from monsoon storms.
“The landscape, the animals need this to happen to give it a new start,” he said.
“The big picture here is that the people who put their homes in the urban interface, it’s a challenge for the wildland firefighters.”
The blaze led to “Go” orders – the evacuation stage of Arizona’s “Ready, Set, Go” emergency system – in several communities throughout the month. More than 25 zones near the Telegraph Fire remain under “Ready” or “Defined” status.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Hunter and Price said it was likely started by human activity.