Created this September with a mission to “research and make recommendations for potential changes to state and federal laws and regulations related to the management of wildfires in the State of Arizona,” the Arizona House of Representatives Forest & Wildfire Management Ad Hoc Committee traveled to Globe last Tuesday, convening in the City Council chamber to hear from area leaders and citizens.
The committee, chaired by State Representative David Cook, was also briefed by Tonto National Forest on the causes of, and firefighting resources committed to, the Woodbury, Bush and Telegraph Fires. Taiga Rohrer, fire and aviation staff officer with the Forest, said the Telegraph Fire was human-caused but that the agency was still investigating its specific origins.
Committee members heard sometimes emotional testimony from citizens impacted by wildfires and post-fire flooding. A Globe resident, Sarah Bernstein, spoke of “water like I’ve never seen” and “devastation on so many levels.” In El Capitan, 13 homes were lost in the Telegraph Fire and another to flooding; a resident said the area has seen 22 floods more than five feet deep.
“On June 4 [the day the Telegraph Fire began], no one could imagine that the fire would span the territory it went through,” said Superior Mayor Mila Besich, adding that the devastation included local hiking trails.
Besich said that in the wake of this summer’s disasters, which included post-fire floods along Highway 60, her community is putting together a fi re-wise program. The City of Globe is working on the same goal with the Town of Miami and Gila County, according to Globe Mayor Al Gameros.
“We have environmental changes in our state and our community that we need to deal with,” said Gameros. “We need to work on establishing some type of barriers to slow these waters down; we have to start planning now, not just for this year but the next three to five.”
In one exchange Rep. Cook questioned Rohrer about the use of certain backburns during the Telegraph Fire, particularly one Cook said he witnessed being set along Forest Road 651 in the Pinals, asking who had authority to order them. Rohrer said authorizing such firing operations would rest with the Operations Section Chief or Branch Chief.
The meeting also touched on future forest management. “We have to turn this ship around, get back to forest management, bring back logging and put more cows on the ground,” said Gila County Supervisor Woody Cline.