Message #269:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Fire and Prehistory -- Mesa Verde Nat'l Park Fires Update
Date: Thu, 22 Aug 96 11:48:00 MST
Encoding: 49 TEXT


From: Erny Kuncl  Erny_Kuncl@nps.gov

Not all the fires are bad news.  As pointed out [in Brian's earlier SASIG 
message], they are part of the ecology and have happened there long before 
there was any protected status.  If anything, man's influence has created 
more understory of fuels because of our putting out fires since we took over 
the domain technologically.  This fire will reduce that fuel load.

A lot of physical structures, Far View Lodge complex, the visitor Center, 
etc. were spared by near heroic fire team action; spraying the structures 
with retardant, having fire hydrant water nearby, etc.  The collection 
building, Chapin Mesa area, museum, Spruce Tree House, Balcony, and Cliff 
Palace, pit houses, etc were never threatened as the fire originated north 
of there and burned northeasterly toward Park Point, the high point of park. 
 But there could be more lightning caused or man-caused fires in the near 
future.  Earlier thinning of the fuel load around structures has helped 
protect them so preparation (pre-suppression) is an important tool.  We 
ain't out'a the woods yet! The other mesas are very vulnerable.

Another beneficial aspect is that a fire will clear the ground cover and 
allow discovery of new sites and easier surface survey.  The problem is 
where does the money and time come from to do that in the window of 
opportunity that now shortly exists?  We can ask as well, what will the cost 
of this fires' suppression be?  Millions?

Another sign of excellent on-scene management was the non-use of terrain 
destroying bull-dozers, etc to build fire line.  This is sometimes a bone of 
contention among fire fighters, but in my opinion man has never put out a 
large campaign type fire without the clearly definite help of Mother Nature, 
usually in the form of rain or snow!  So why do more damage with machinery? 
 In this case, the Chapin 5 Fire the fire burned right over the main road 
and adjacent clear areas so how can we expect a man-made line of a few yards 
width to check the advance of a highly explosive pinyon-juniper, scrub oak 
fuel fed fire which at one point burned 3 or 4 miles in as many hours!

I guess the real dangers of a fire in/or near a ruin threatens the in-situ 
beam timbers, decorative plaster, morter chinking, and possible dating 
contamination.  Maybe even wall/ceiling collapse.  But I've seen a lot of 
ruins without any signs of fire damage, so maybe this threat is "protective 
paranoia".  We'll see and I bet that the experts have better data then my 
anecdotal experience can provide.

For certain, there will unsightly burned forest around for a few years, ash 
run-off and contamination will be a nuisance, but the opportunity to show 
the visitor the interaction and effects of fire-on-man and man-on-fire in a 
setting of prehistory to present is golden!