By AARON RICCA/The Bee
KINGMAN–Mohave County is considered the fifth largest in the country and quite possibly one of the most diverse in terms of terrain, ecosystems and temperatures.
As the county enters into one of the driest summers on record, the thought of a wildfire in the mountains continues to be at the center of attention.
Mohave County Emergency Management and Board of Supervisors have already implemented certain bans for the Hualapai mountains. However, the residents of those who call the mountains their home remain on edge, and ready, for a possible fire.
“The 2017-2018 season has been the driest Fall-Spring I could find for the area,” said BLM spokeswoman Dolores Garcia, referencing precipitation measurements taken from the Remote Automated Weather Station near Pine Lake.
“Live fuel moisture in the Scrub Oak at Pine Lake is running low right now and leaves are turning brown, very close to the lowest-live fuel moisture readings we have ever recorded.” she said.
Should a fire send people packing, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office will take the lead in providing manpower, issuing evacuation orders, providing security and traffic control and provide liaisons for operations with assisting state and federal agencies.
As for how many homes are located in the Hualapai Mountain region, the numbers are as follows:
- Pine Lake–150 homes including the Hualapai Mountain Resort.
- Pinion Pines/Atherton Acres–220
- Lazy YU Ranch–160
- East of the Hualapais and West of U.S. Highway 93–about 170
Those numbers include Hualapai Mountain Park, which hosts more than 60 campsites and cabins, nearly 50 RV sits and the trailheads to 10 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Four mountaintop communication sites would also be at risk.
Mohave County Emergency Management will coordinate the evacuation process and the opening of shelters with the assistance from the American Red Cross. The county parks department will provide evacuation warnings, direction and supervision to Hualapai Mountain Park visitors while coordinating with the Pine Lake Fire Department and MCSO.
The Dean Peak Fire in 2013 was the last major burn that spurred the evacuation of Pine Lake, Pinion Pines and Hualapai Mountain Park. The fire consumed more than 5,400 acres over the course of more than a week. About 200 families were displaced by the fire that took the efforts of nearly 500 firefighters to control. No homes were damaged and no injuries reported. The estimated cost to suppress the fire was nearly $4.5 million.
Mohave County Parks Administrator Harold Barton broke the down how the park, a busy summer destination that attracted nearly 20,000 people between May and August of 2017, would handle another major fire.
Prior to any enforcement, park staff informs visitors of park rules, including campfires. Aside from the enforcement MCSO provides, the county is still searching for a full-time park ranger and superintendent to enforce rules.
As for fire resources for the Hualapais, the BLM has three fully staffed “Type 6” engines in Kingman, two in Yuma, one in Wickenburg, one in Phoenix and the Weaver Mountain Helitack, an engine in Wickenburg and another engine in Phoenix.
A Hualapai Mountain Contingency Fire Plan is reviewed, updated, and exercised annually in the spring with participation from all local, county, state, and federal stakeholders. The BLM is lead agency for wildfires on the Hualapai Mountain Park per agreement with the county, but Pine Lake, Pinion Pine and other neighboring fire departments would also be involved in early notification and response.
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office has statutory authority for evacuations in the county, but the Hualapai Plan allows flexibility for initial incident commanders, whether fire, Sheriff’s Office, or park personnel, to initiate evacuations for immediate threats.
Barton said the Mohave County Parks Department recently reassigned a certified Davis Camp assistant park superintendent to Hualapai Mountain Park.
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three part series focusing on the fire restrictions and conditions of the Hualapai Mountain.