FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A June fire that led to the voluntary evacuation of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon grew out of control because of errors by fire managers and senior supervisors who let the lightning-caused blaze burn in dangerous conditions, a U.S. Forest Service report says.
The Warm Fire ended up charring 59,000 acres on the Kaibab Plateau between June 8 and July 4, with some of the area scalded so badly the soil was sterilized.
The report, obtained this week by the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper, blames supervisors and Kaibab National Forest District Ranger Jill Leonard for a series of mistakes, including inaction when the fire flared out of control, making decisions on the fly and allowing the fire to burn unfought during the peak Arizona fire season.
A spokeswoman for the Forest Service said Saturday that only a few of the report's findings relate specifically to Leonard, who now is assigned to the Washington D.C. headquarters, and that blaming her alone would be simplistic.
"We did not end up with the results we wanted, that's for certain," said Jackie Denk, the spokeswoman for the Kaibab forest. "We do understand there are lots of things to be learned."
Fire managers had allowed the blaze to burn at first because they regarded it as a beneficial clearing of accumulated ground debris and "ladder fuels." But they made the decision to fight it after it approached some structures and cut the only route to the North Rim unit of Grand Canyon National Park.
About 800 tourists and 200 National Parks Service and lodge employees were stranded for a day. The tourists were escorted out the next day.
The fire report places part of the blame on erratic weather, but said Leonard and other managers erred in letting it burn during peak fire season. At the time of the blaze, a fire 120 miles south in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona was being aggressively fought and was the highest-priority fire in the nation.
Lightning sparked the Warm Fire on June 8, and after allowing the blaze to burn for three days a team was ordered to watch over the fire.
By June 24, the fire began approaching the small community of Jacob Lake and a team was assigned to fight the blaze. The next day, winds whipped it out of control and it became a bona fide wildfire. It took an additional 10 days to contain.