Entertainment Magazine: Tucson: Mt. Lemmon: Aspen Fire 2003

Fire on the Mountain

This video was taken July 2, 2003 from Tucson Electric Park at the opening of the Tucson Sidewinders game.

While the Star Spangeled Banner is performed in the background, view the plume of smoke rising from the mountains and spreading across the horizon

© 2003 Robert Zucker.

The Mt. Lemmon Aspen Fire of 2003

These are some outside links to get more up to date information and view images of the fire of July 2003.

Ways to help the Aspen Fire recovery on Mount Lemmon:

  • Trees for Mount Lemmon to revegetate private property: P.O. Box 704, Mount Lemmon, AZ., 85619 or call 749-2695.
  • Friends of Sabino Canyon to help the Coronado National Forest: P.O. Box 31265, Tucson, AZ., 85751. Phone 749-1900. sabinocanyon.org
  • Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona: 881-3300. volunteersoaz.org

Devastating forest fire that wiped out Summerhaven brings new life the community

The village of Summerhaven, atop the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, is recovering from the devestating fire on Thursday, June 19, 2003. That fire destroyed tens of thousands of acres of forest land and wiped out 325 of 450 structures on the mountain.

The fire was extinguished when the summer monsoon rains finally arrived on July 15.

Most of the burned down structures were residential and summer home cabins. Nearly all of the dozen businesses in Summerhaven are gone. The Alpine Cafe surived and reopened on July 25.

The charred remains caused millions in structural damages, not including the value of contents inside the homes and businesses. Some of the radio towers have been melted, but the observatory was spared.

Thire fire burned burned over 85,000 acres across the top of the range and on both the north and south sides all the way down to Ventana Canyon. The Canyon homes and Ventana Canyon Resort was evacuated for a few days before the fire was finally put out by the rains.

The rains also caused some flash flooding and mudslides over the next weeks. Black soot from the mountain pours down Sabino Creek.

During the monthlong fire, at night the glowing orange flames glittered across the sky. During the day, the range is covered with a cloud of smoke. It was a grim reminder of the complete destruction whenever someone looks up from the Tucson city streets to the burning mountain just a few miles away.

The fire, called the Aspen Fire, has been determined by the U.S. Forest Service to be human caused. An area of 20 by 20 feet is narrowed down to where the fire started along a Marshal Gulch trail on Tuesday, June 17. While several people were questioned, and placed near the scene, no charges have been filed in connection to the blaze.

The same day, lightning struck the eastside Rincon Mountains and sparked the still burning Helen II fire. That fire was caused by lightning, but a review of records of lightning strikes that day did not show any on the Catalina Mountains. The cost to battle the Aspen Fire has exceeded $16 million to date.

Within two days, the fire tore up the mountain through the Marshal Gulch valley towards Summerhaven fueled by extremely high winds for several days. The winds prevented firefighters from getting close to the fire by land and air. The winds whipped through the mountains gathering energy and wiped out Summerhaven within an hour about 1:30 p.m. that Thursday afternoon.

Daily news feeds show the charred remains of entire streets of cabins. A few survived. Most of Summerhaven was destroyed- including the Alpine Lodge which survived a fire several decades ago. Residents and businesses vow to rebuild. But the discussion is for stricter building and fire codes for the new structures. Some may not be able to rebuild because of land and deed restrictions.

The entire city of Tucson has been saddened that month as the menacing cloud of ash hung over the city constantly reminding us that our "jewel" in the desert is now a piece of charcoal. We will never enjoy the mountain as it once was. It will takes decades and centuries to return. The people of Tucson mourn the loss.

Mt. Lemmon Entertainment Magazine

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Climb the Mountain With Amazon.com

Frog Mountain Blues (Paperback)
by Charles Bowden, Jack W. Dykinga (Photographer)

Frog Mountain is the name the native people gave the highest peak in Arizona's Santa Catalina Mountains. In this set of seven essays, Bowden elegizes this endangered wilderness area, and describes the recent developmentsroads, ski lodges, ATV trailsthat have degraded the mountains.

He believes in preserving the wilderness, insisting that there be no encroachment into remaining wild areas. Some of the writing is startling in its descriptive power and imagery, and the chapter "Frog Mountain" is an elegant defense of the preservationist point of view.

The many photographs nicely complement Bowden's text. But overall the book is uneven. Suitable for regional and comprehensive collections. Randy Dykhuis, Grace A. Dow Memorial Lib., Midland, Mich. Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Climbers guide to Sabino Canyon and Mount Lemmon Highway Tucson, Arizona
by John Steiger (Author)
Tucson Hiking Guide
Author: Betty Leavengood
Squeezing the Lemmon II ...
more juice than ever: A rock climber's guide to the Mt. Lemmon Highway, Tucson, Arizona
(Unknown Binding) by Eric Fazio-Rhicard (Author) 2000, 324 pages.

Ski Touring Arizona
Dougald Bremner