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!