Editor: There are two natural physical features in the Gila Valley that set the Valley apart and make it special. One is the Gila River, which is the lifeline of the Valley; the other is Mount Graham.
We in the Valley value the mountain as if it were ours. We see it every day, and we visit it every opportunity that is afforded us. Every summer when temperatures rise to 100-degree Fahrenheit and above, we know that in an hour we can be up on the mountain under the pine trees, next to a stream or lake, enjoying 70-degree weather.
However, the mountain has definite seasons, and the month of June is the period when there is the most stress on all the plants and animals. The live plant moisture is at its yearly low mark, and the soil moisture is almost nonexistent. Animal life also is under extreme stress. The mother deer are heavy with fawn or have recently given birth in expectation of new feed brought on by rains. The turkey are still young and can’t fly long distances. Many birds are still on the nest. June is always a contest to see what life will survive until life-giving rain is brought by the onset of the monsoons.
Under these extreme conditions, when lightning strikes the mountain the first week in June, it is about four weeks before we can expect the relative humidity to surge. The Frye fire started June 7. We all watched the progression of the fire, beginning with a white puff, until we saw the entire north slope of the mountain engulfed. We all have to wonder, could any life escape? Will the mountain’s aspect be changed from trees and brush to only grass? What happened to each of our favorite spots on the mountain? When it rains, what will hold the water on the slopes to nourish budding plants? Will the downslopes be gutted with crevasses from the water’s surging? How will fish survive the sediment and ash in the streams and lake? Will bear, deer, lion and coatimundi relocate or starve? Will our community tolerate displaced predators, or will the survivors die anyway?
I am now an old man of 74, but I vividly remember carrying a backpack pump (5 gallons of water) up the same slope where the Frye fire started. I helped put a line around another fire lower on the same slope. It was in a different time, when management did not hesitate to send a crew up to a fire and do what was necessary to put it out. My actions ensured a healthy mountain for the next generations. Now the "cost" of a devastating fire is not measured in the same currency as I mentioned above: plants, animals and watershed health. The future generations will watch Mother Nature try to repair the utter devastation caused by lack of initial action on June 7: flooding, wildlife famine, vistas never to be seen again.