Round Fire smoulders, refuses to die

There is no estimated date of containment for the Round Fire, but crews have been scaled back.

On a positive note, Birkland said that Coconino Forest had zero fire starts subsequent to the Memorial Day weekend, a traditionally busy one for state parks.

"We had no reports of fires over the Memorial Day weekend," she said. "That's good for a heavy recreation weekend."

With the bark beetle infestation of forest trees, there is more potential for a large-scale forest fire that would devastate forestland and would have dire economic consequences.

Tom DeGomez, forest health specialist with the University of Arizona and a pine bark beetle specialist, said Arizona’s ponderosa pine and piñon forests have sustained significant impacts from the bark beetle outbreak of 2002.

Conservative estimates based upon U.S. Forest Service aerial surveys of federal lands place the number of dead ponderosa pine statewide at 2 million on some 503,000 acres. This estimate is skewed somewhat due to it being completed last July through October and additional tree infestation was detected during autumn

The most heavily impacted forests of the state are the Tonto, Apache-Sitgreaves and Prescott National Forests. A late season survey of 28 square miles of piñon woodland southeast of Flagstaff revealed 700,000 dead trees or more than 90 percent of the mature piñon trees in the area.

He said that low precipitation and overcrowded forest growth compounded the bark beetle plague and moisture levels for the winter of 2002-03 (October to January) are running 3 inches below normal. The current dry conditions coupled with very high levels of over wintering bark beetles could very well lead to greater bark beetle outbreaks this year.

Birkland said that when the bark beetles girdle a tree -- separating the outer bark layer from the rest of the tree, it is prevented from sustaining itself with nutrients and dies.

If forests are forced to close because of high fire potential, there will be severe economic repercussions at the local level.

Parks Rangers remind all recreation bound citizens to be extremely care with fire.

For more information on the bark beetle scourge, check out http://www.ag.arizona.edu/extension/fh/ or http://ag.arizona.edu/yavapai or http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/redrockpass_home.shtml

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