Last weekend I had the chance to drive out FR 117 and FR 61, past Greens Peak in the vicinity of Pancho Spring, and see the damage wrought by the San Juan Fire. This fire is now fully contained, but not before it ended up consuming almost 7,000 acres. Luckily, it appears much of it was a low-intensity ground fire that burned grass, shrubs, and thickets of spindly, sickly jack pines, while leaving the mature trees comparatively unscathed and healthier in the long run.
There were already visible areas of erosion, helping explain the Forest Service’s decision to keep a portion of the burn area closed until the end of the year out of fear of mudslides and flooding.[Ed. Note, 9-30-2014: All restrictions to entering the San Juan site, and all of the area of the Slide fire except for West Fork Canyon, have been lifted. Happy hunting!]
If we get a wet winter, the morel hunting here next spring should be memorable. It may even be the case that late summer or early fall rains could produce a flush of same-year fire morels. However, until New Year’s, you’ll want to stay out of the closed area or risk a $5,000 fine. I did notice plenty of places where the fire slopped over the roads that are now open, especially along the east side of FR 61, and if you want to chance your luck at finding some morels this year you should be able to find considerable burned-over terrain that is not subject to the closure order.
Similarly, the Slide Fire that started in Oak Creek Canyon and burned up and over the canyon rim into the Coconino National Forest has been mostly closed off from public access for the time being. The problem of erosion and mudslides in the confines of Oak Creek Canyon is even more acute than on the relatively flat ground where the San Juan fire burned. The forested area that the Slide fire burned is mostly in Ponderosa pines at somewhat lower elevation (7000′-7500′) than the mixed conifers of the San Juan fire at 7500-8500′, and any morel flush will likely be two or three weeks earlier than at the higher location.
You can rest assured that both of these sites will be inspected repeatedly between mid-April and late May, and we will be sure to pass along news of any morel fruitings that may be discovered. Pray for snow, the more the better for the morel crop! We will have to be prepared to dash up there on short notice to beat the hordes of commercial pickers, however.
One last site that morel maniacs will want to keep under surveillance is the Sitgreaves Fire in the Kaibab National Forest. This is 5 miles north of Parks, between Williams and Flagstaff, where a lightning fire has started naturally and will be allowed to burn up to 14,000 acres.