The scars of fire are a hard-to-miss aspect of any visit to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Heading down State Route 67 quickly brings drivers face to face with the impacts of the 58,000-acre Warm Fire, which started when a managed wildfire got out of control in 2006.

Wildfire impacts are also strikingly visible along the roads to Cape Royal and Point Imperial.

Most recently, the 14,500-acre Fuller Fire swept through the area and created significant stretches along the roads where instead of dense forest the view is one of blackened ground and trees charred by fire. A naturally caused wildfire, the Fuller Fire was also allowed to burn by the Forest Service and the Park Service. Two weeks in, it started to burn more aggressively, fueled by gusty winds and low humidity. The fire necessitated road closures and burned at moderate and high severity in some places, which wasn’t part of fire managers’ initial expectations. The total cost to put it out came to nearly $10 million.

“We do get a lot of questions about fire in general on the North Rim because we have a lot of fire activity on this side of the canyon,” said Mandi Toy, supervisory park ranger for interpretation at the North Rim and Canyon Districts. “We talk a lot about fire history in the visitor center.”

Elaine Gentry and her husband Mike Rizza, who were visiting the North Rim from northern California, said they had heard that the area had been burned by many wildfires, “but to see it is something else,” Gentry said.

“But to see what is coming back makes me hopeful,” Gentry said as she stood at Point Imperial.

Seeing the fire scars makes her wonder how the Park Service plans to manage fires and the forests in the future, whether that be by thinning trees, suppressing fire or letting it burn as a natural part of the ecosystem, Gentry said.

Seeing forests burned by fire inspired a mixed reaction for Alain Notte, who was visiting from Brussels.

“We know it is a natural cycle to have this, but we also know people are not very cautious,” he said.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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