Fires were raging in Arizona the month of July, 1920, but from what was reported in the The Holbrook (Arizona) News and the Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) one wonders if we are repeating the same scenario again 100 years later. But upon further reading “Raging Forest Fires” the size of the fires was relatively small in comparison to the fires this summer where 100,000s of acres are burned with the loss of buildings, i.e., homes. The largest fire in 1920 consumed over 5,000 acres in comparison, but nevertheless they still thought the fires had burned to much forest and land. Any loss of forest land is devastating!
In the Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) July 16, there appeared an article entitled “Raging Forest Fires.” Information included how many acres had been burned, the cause if known and how many men were fighting the fires in some cases.
Forest fires have been raging in several places in the Coconino National Forest during the last few days of the week of July 4 and into this week of July 12, burning over 5,000 acres of land. These fires were under complete control this past Tuesday night of July 11.
The fires in the Tusayan National Forest have been even more extensive. A fire in the Saginaw tract, northeast of Williams, had burned over more than 2,000 acres on Wednesday, July 14, and it was still raging along a 4-mile forest.
Three other larger fires in the Coconino forest were listed in the order in which they broke out:
Dead Man’s Flat had burned over 1,500 acres of uncut timber of the forest reserve. It took 40 men to put out the fire which was believed to have been set by sheepherder.
The Greenlaw Fire located southeast of Flagstaff near the road to the Cliff Dwellings has burned over 900 acres of which over half the forest had been cut. Most of this forest land belonged to the A.L.&T. company. The cause of this fire was unknown. Even though the fire was smaller than Dead Man’s Flat it took 75 men to handle it.
The last fire in the Coconino forest is the Black Bill Park fire which has burned over 2,000 acres, all forest land and uncut timber land. One hundred men and three days were needed to get it under control. Unfortunately, the fire was started by Nestor Garcia, Campbell & Francis sheepherder, who was bringing a band of bucks through. Nestor threw away a burning cigarette stub catching the grass on fire. He fought the fire a few moments, then gave up and left it without reporting it. He was arrested and had a hearing before Justice of the Peace R. J. Kidd, who fined him $25 and gave him a 90-day suspended jail sentence.
Another fire was called Dry Lake, near Fred Garing’s ranch. It covered 300 acres, of partly uncut lumber, partly private land and the rest University and A.L. & T. land. It was reported as a very stubborn fire to fight and took 69 men to handle it.
This article appeared in the Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) for July 16th. It was not uncommon for the newspapers back in early Arizona times to include such topics of interest to the community at large. It is included here in its entirety:
Preventing Fires on Farm
Experience has shown that fire prevention should be universally practiced. The farmer, however, should give special attention to the elimination of fire hazards and the adoption of protective methods. This is true for several reasons. In the first place, his house, barn and outbuildings are usually constructed of combustible materials; being more or less isolated they are subject to lightning strokes; kerosene and gasoline are likely to be stored about the premises and used for light and power; he must fill his barn with hay, straw and feed which are subject to spontaneous combustion and last but not least, he is usually outside of the protection of a fire department. Too often a fire once started in a farm building results in a total loss, while the owner stands sadly by with his family and his neighbors, and wishes that he had taken some of those precautions which he had been considering.
Now you may wonder why a website devoted to the history of Arizona’s sheep industry would include information on forest fires. The forest reserves were home to the sheep in the summer and burning of the forest would not be beneficial to any sheep rancher. He would lose his grazing land maybe for a year or two until the grasses had sufficiently recovered to allow grazing once again. The fire could be in areas that where the trailing of the sheep occurred each spring and fall and thus there would not be sufficient feed for the animals while on the trails. Concern for his flock every summer in years of drought, thus making the forest more susceptible to fires, was never far was the sheep rancher’s mind. He could lose a band of sheep. There were reports of herders and the dogs, who helped keep the flocks together, had been killed by lightning. Obviously, forest fires are detrimental to the environment and thus affected domesticated livestock and forest animals. In this time-period, fires were just as deadly as they are today!
And that is the news from July 1920.