A massive wildfire forced the closure and evacuation of the North Rim in Grand Canyon National Park. The lightning sparked blaze, dubbed the “Warm Fire”, charred approximately 60,000 acres of the Kaibab National Forest before being fully contained by firefighters on July 6.
Although the fire failed to reach the boundary of Grand Canyon National Park, it burned along the only road (Highway 67) that provides access to the lodges, trailheads and scenic overlooks of the North Rim proper. Visitors and employees alike were escorted to safety via motor caravans through ominous clouds of smoke by National Park Service, National Forest Service, and Arizona Department of Public Safety personnel. At one point, a shift in the wind even shrouded the distant South Rim in smoke and ash. The South Rim remained open throughout the ordeal.
The cost of fighting the blaze is expected to exceed $7 million dollars. Now that the closure has been lifted, visitors to the North Rim will be confronted with a stark reminder of the dangers of wildland fires in the form of an eighteen mile stretch of highway with everything in sight having been burned to a crisp.
Many experts agree that such a conflagration was long overdue on the Kaibab Plateau where a century of fire suppression has had the unintended effect of creating an overgrown forest that is vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires. The good news is that fire is an integral part of forest ecology, and even the areas affected by this recent event will undoubtedly be restored naturally in the coming decades.