ARIZONA NEWS

2nd phase of restoration begins for Arizona’s 1990 Dude Fire

Jun 11, 2024, 12:00 PM

PHOENIX — The second phase of a fire restoration project in the Tonto National Forest is officially underway, authorities announced on Monday.

The scars date back to 1990, when the lightning-caused Dude Fire raged north of Payson. The fire killed six inmate-firefighters from the Perryville Fire Crew.

It took 10 days to control the fire. During that time, the Dude Fire burned over 24,000 acres and destroyed 63 homes, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

Although over 30 years have passed, the scars still have an enormous impact on the Tonto National Forest Payson Ranger District.

In fact, the Salt River Project (SRP) said the scar causes “unnaturally dense vegetation” in the area.

This density poses a significant fire risk. Essentially, it makes it harder for native pine trees to regrow, SRP said.

That’s why SRP kicked off a two-phase project to clear flammable brush and debris from the area in 2023. Funds of over $288K from data data center developer EdgeCore Digital Infrastructure supported the project, SRP said.

“This initiative addresses the unhealthy forests and devastating wildfires that threaten the health of SRP’s watershed and, in turn, SRP’s ability to deliver clean, reliable water to the Phoenix metro area,” according to an SRP announcement from last year.

The first phase of the project wrapped up in February of this year. Crews treated a total of 1,453 acres.

What’s unique about phase two of the fire restoration project?

The purpose of the next phase of the Dude Fire Restoration project is to help improve the health of ponderosa pine trees.

Contracted crews started restoring 1,143 acres of woodlands. They’re reducing tree densities and removing competing brush, according to the Tonto National Forest.

Patty Ringle with the Tonto National Forest said this project could prevent future fires in the area.

“Without mechanical treatment, it is only a matter of time before the area is impacted by a stand replacement wildfire again, which would reset the area to conditions similar to 1990 after the Dude Fire,” Ringle said in a Monday announcement.

Authorities expect phase two to be done by December. There are four total phases in the project, which will continue through 2026. Ultimately, project organizers will treat a total of 7,600 acres.

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2nd phase of restoration begins for Arizona’s 1990 Dude Fire