Revisiting Brins Mesa Fire Area, Sedona, Arizona

Brins Mesa Fire

The Brins Mesa Fire made national news when it started on June 17 2006, destroying over 4400 acres of pristine forest

Brins Mesa Fire

Up in Smoke, June 17, 2006

land, leaving a visible scar upon the landscape still very noticeable today.

Even though the scars are nasty, it is good to see things are growing back. The shrubs are re-emerging, staking claim to the bulk of the land. Wildflowers are abundant in season and on Vultee Arch Trail are extraordinary. Arizona Cypress trees are growing in areas just North of Brins Mesa.

Growing back

Growing Back

Green is Good

Very little was growing after the first year. Bare ground and blackened Cypress trunks created an eerie feel. By the second year a shrub by the name of Yerba Santa was everywhere and seemingly the only plant to make it through the fire. By year four it could be seen that most indigenous forbs, grasses and shrubs were making a comeback. And now in its sixth year the whole area looks green from a distance.

Lost Mtn Fire

I learned a big lesson about wildfires many years ago when a favorite spot of mine went up in flames due to a

Yerba Santa taking hold

Yerba Santa taking hold

lightning strike. I will never forget the feeling of panic and loss, thinking my place in the wilderness would be forever destroyed. I was shocked to find large areas reduced to bare earth, with smoking holes where Ponderosa roots were still smoldering deep underground.

After two years the shrubs were well established and baby Ponderosa were abundant. Also, signs of wildlife were more than abundant during these first few years. After four years the Ponderosa started forming a barrier of six foot tall Ponderosa’s growing intertwined because of the numbers in such close proximity. After seven years there was a place on the forest service trail that got so overgrown that it was simply to punishing to bother trying to make it to the end. After eleven years it is only starting to thin out some of the weaker trees.

It was truly amazing to see this regrowth happen, to see the plant life reclaim barren ground. It seemed almost better than before. But it turned out that this was a slower burning, less intense fire. The lesson I learned was that even though the fire destroyed a lot, the Earth will heal with time and life returns with abundance.

No Fan of Wildfires

Cypress Trees Six Years After

Cypress Trees Six Years After

Of course this is not an endorsement for wildfires. The Brins Mesa Fire was started because some people were camping illegally and thought it was acceptable to walk away from hot coals left uncovered near dense dry shrubbery on the edge of a mesa on a windy day in our season of peak heat. Karma be with you my friends! Mistakes like these have cost Arizona over a million acres of forest in recent years. God only knows how many animals died and how long it will take for those areas to recover. Super hot fires tend to do more and longer lasting damage.

Rate of Regrowth

Even though Brins Mesa is growing back and is green again it is a long way from being back to where it was. On Lost

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

Mtn. the shrubs came back first. The Ponderosa came soon afterwards and seemed to grow pretty fast. At least there is some decent habitat for the wildlife.
Brins Mesa is not really growing back very fast at all. I’m no expert on the subject but I think if it has taken six years for the Cypress trees to get started, then we’re probably looking at 30-40 years to get back close to what it was.
If anyone knows the real rate of Arizona Cypress growth please do comment.
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