Jun 21

We summit Mount Humphreys, and see the Schultz Pass Fire

You can click on any image to get a larger version.

My friend Steve came over this AM and we headed off to climb Mount Humphreys, the highest mountain in the state.We enjoyed the many spectacular sights along the way, and as we cleared the treeline and approached the saddle, I noticed these alpine flowers.  Nice, pretty flowers, and a fluffy white cloud – how picturesque!


I followed Steve up the jumbled and steep slope.  Wow, that’s some cloud, isn’t it?


More alpine flowers, and hey… look at those clouds!  Something doesn’t look right…


Oh, something isn’t right here.  Definitely not OK.  Is that flame on the right?


Yeah, that’s flame all right. Compare the height of the flame to the trees.


The flames would erupt in tornado-like gusts and send fast plumes of smoke into the air.  It looked like a nuclear weapon had detonated.



I think that the hot ash cloud was rising, cooling, and then sinking again, making a giant arch.  Not the degree of shadow cast by the plume.


Sometimes the flames would blast into the air, and sometimes they would flow along the ground like a wave.  Nothing could possibly withstand that blast, and it moved fast.


Aircraft were buzzing around, dropping chemical retardants and water.  They looked like fleas on a dog; how could they make any difference?  Note the tiny white dot near the center of this picture.


Here it is, magnified:


The plume morphed quickly and constantly.


A nice daytime moon is out.


Let’s take some callous tourist shots while the natural disaster unfolds.  Here’s me looking geeky because the wind is blowing my hat around (which has nothing to do with me being geeky, I know).




Steve calling his S.O.: “Hey, guess what I’m doing?”



A bit giddy from the altitude, we began to consider the reality.  This is so bad, we wonder if town is on fire.  We can only speculate that yesterday’s Hardy fire, not yet contained, has somehow jumped to the peaks; but the town of Flagstaff is in between.  What is happening to people’s homes?  What about all the wild animals?  How much forest will be destroyed?  I think it’s going to look like mars after it burns out.  Are there hikers trapped in there?  Is anyone hurt?  What about all the fireman risking their  lives to stop this?

It turns out that so far, no buildings have burned, and no people have been injured. But the future is uncertain.  Neighborhoods are being evacuated and a lot of people are going to spend an anxious night at a red cross shelter.  Fire like this happens so fast; this morning, nobody knew that this would happen.  We had no clue at all, and if we were spending the day below the saddle, we would have had no idea of the apocalyptic destruction unfolding just on the other side of the mountain.

We did meet a trio of students who had been hiking near the fire and were forced to hike many miles out of their way to avoid it.

Here’s the latest news on the fire as of the writing of this post.

Here are some excellent photos of aircraft fighting yesterday’s Hardy fire, which also caused evacuations in Flagstaff, and some night shots of the Schultz Pass fire.  These are from my co-worker Padraig.


39 Comments so far

  1. Niffer June 21st, 2010 8:13 AM

    First, WOW! Those are fantastic photos of smoke! It’s too bad that it’s from such a devastating thing because the photos are gorgeous. Do you know if the cause was natural? If so, then I’m all for the fire – as strange as that sounds. However, I do hope no one gets hurt.

    Second, that is NOT you! I never would have recognized you if I saw that picture elsewhere. I’m tempted to say it really isn’t you. Take away the dorky look (no, the hat isn’t adding to it), and you look fantastic – much younger than other photos I’ve seen! Go you!

  2. admin June 21st, 2010 10:43 AM

    Thanks Niffer! No word on the cause yet, although it seems a little strange to have two devastating fires in two days. The first one (the “Hardy fire”) was accidentally set by a careless camper who is already in jail. The strange thing is that the two fires are not geographically contiguous, although they are only a mile or two apart.

  3. Kim Westcott June 21st, 2010 11:12 AM

    Those are some of the most amazing wildfire photos I’ve ever seen! What an incredible vantage point! Thanks for posting Dan — you’ve got a real knack for photography!

  4. Antoinette Beiser June 21st, 2010 12:05 PM


  5. Eric June 21st, 2010 2:51 PM

    eexcelent pictures Dan! thought you guys looked familiar when I saw that link; you are now hearing from the trio again! check out our pic of the day:

  6. talkingtostones June 21st, 2010 3:04 PM

    Thanks for the link, Dan! These are great photos — including of you and Steve touristing around! :> I have to agree with Niffer, though — wouldn’t have recognized you in that photo without your comment. Could you imagine piloting one of those planes in the midst of all that? That would take some doing and the heat would be incredible. All that work and risk and they’re still so tiny it looks like they couldn’t possibly help. Pretty amazing. Looking forward to catching up with you on the upcoming visit out there … sans fire, hopefully.

  7. danielle morales June 21st, 2010 3:23 PM

    thank you for sharing this
    the pictures are incredible and heartbreaking
    thanx again!!

  8. zaira reznick June 21st, 2010 8:36 PM

    wow what photos. hard to believe we are part of this massive fire. you two were brave to stick around! can i forward this photo to a fried who used to live here (she had a home on glodia drive where the first evacuation was taking place for this shultz fire.)
    zaira reznick

  9. Mary June 21st, 2010 8:48 PM

    Hi Dan.
    A-MAAAZING photos. I’m afraid this is a historic fire and it’s just beginning. Thanks for sharing.
    Keep climbing (and shooting).
    — Mary : )

  10. Laurie P June 21st, 2010 10:28 PM

    Amazing photos. Thanks for sharing, especially so quickly!!

  11. John t June 21st, 2010 11:12 PM

    thanks for sharing….. To think it was an abandoned campfire!! RETARDS!!!!!!!!!

  12. melissa June 21st, 2010 11:18 PM

    Thanks for posting – I’ve been worried about been friends and family up north. Not that these photos help me relax, but it is nice to at least see some images. Great quality, too!

  13. Rei June 22nd, 2010 1:31 AM

    Wow….. Truly amazing photos. I have been wondering what it looks like from that view, and you captured it perfectly. I worry that it’s going to look like Mars too. My mom was evacuated from her house, and I am up in Portland worried, and wishing I could be there. Those poor animals too. :(

  14. Wendy Swartz June 22nd, 2010 10:18 AM

    Thanks for posting these Dan – I picked this up off of Facebook. We live in Flag and this is pretty major news here. Ok, it really is all that anyone can think or talk about… These are some of the best photos I have seen of the fire. We are sending your link all around. Thanks again for putting these up!

  15. Diane Falaschetti June 22nd, 2010 11:27 AM

    My friends Jackie and John who have a home in Munds Park. Jackie sent these to me.
    I had been in Flagstaff on the 12th and stayed at Little America… I love Flagg and am saddended to see this even as beautiful as it is. To know someone was so lazy as to not bury the coals and cover them with water.

    I understand he has been caught and arrested.

    thanks for such wonderful phototgraphy….

  16. Elise June 22nd, 2010 1:50 PM

    Amazing pics, glad we found them. We live on Glodia and can’t believe our house is down in that fire. We actually did not evacuate (only ones who stayed), all is well. No homes burned and frankly, you can’t tell there was a fire from our backyard. We were lucky!! Without the work of all the firefighters and the back burn they did Sunday, not sure our house would still be here.

  17. K June 22nd, 2010 4:29 PM

    Well, first off, how could you mistake a plume of fire smoke for clouds on your initial view? It seemed pretty clear that could NOT have been clouds.
    Then, why is ANYONE smiling in that picture? That’s bad karma.
    Finally, who would be giddy with an out-of-control forest fire down below?
    You guys seemed to act like you were on a field trip, rather than witnessing a potential disaster! You guys are dopes!

  18. admin June 22nd, 2010 6:03 PM

    We were smiling because we were thinking about you. Thanks for the laugh. Perhaps you will follow this link:


  19. K June 22nd, 2010 6:59 PM

    Your irony escaped me, as it was not clear. It came off just wrong.

  20. gretchen simonds June 23rd, 2010 3:13 AM

    definitly not a geek.

  21. Viola p. June 23rd, 2010 9:17 AM

    Your pictures are showing exactly what i have seen on Sunday; 89 North had just been closed; i drove thru’ FS 514 below the base of the mountian to get to Flagstaff. I was able to see beautiful vivid scenery; same as your eyes and through your camera lens. Unfortunately; the aftermath will be blackened for years to come.

  22. Robyn June 23rd, 2010 9:22 AM

    I’ve been watching my beloved mt. burn up for three days now…this fire had nothing to do with the fires in town. And many more miles away than one. So far it’s up to 14,000, from ANOTHER abandoned campfire. I’m asking all of you who camp to let go of your old ways and realize you don’t have to have a fire to camp and have a wonderful time. Dress accordingly for nighttime temps, bring good gear, use a stove, and look at the stars. Let go of the camper’s “boob tube”…it’s an outdated way to camp, and puts our wildlands at such risk.

  23. Robin Amanda June 23rd, 2010 12:32 PM

    Amazingly clear photos. Thank you. Horrific event.

  24. Relax K June June 23rd, 2010 2:51 PM

    @K June—I hope you are friends with these guys and just joking around; if so great you may stop here. If not—chill out and relax

  25. Deb Firtha June 23rd, 2010 9:26 PM

    Amazing photos. Even more amazing is how one careless human camper can destroy so much of our environment and affect so many lives. I guess we need to watch ourselves better. How scary those fires can be.

  26. sherry June 24th, 2010 9:26 AM

    Hey! I live in Sedona and on the first day of the fire we could see a huge mushroom-like cloud like in your photos. Since we’ve been so close to a major fire, it took a minute to shake off the anxiety and appreciate the beauty of nature. I feel the fire and all it’s doing to change the land, animals and people. Thank you for your photos.

  27. Kurt Yardley June 24th, 2010 1:58 PM

    Hey Dan, Awsome pics. I was less than 1/8 mile from where this started.. Sunday Morning walking my friends dogs around the Tank…..I will email you the pic of when it was a baby….

  28. Ursula Goldsmith June 25th, 2010 8:36 PM

    WOW…how tragic and careless people are! I have a home in Parks and this was sent via email to me by a neighbor. I am in working here in Bhutan where most of the country is covered with 72% pristine forest. People here seem to be much more respectful and reverent to Mother Nature.
    Thanks for wonderful shots.

  29. Ronald, Brownwood,Tx June 26th, 2010 5:27 PM

    Beautiful pictures, beautiful vistas. Unfortunately
    fires burn homes but they do good for the forests I
    have heard. The underbrush burns off and tree seeds
    can get to ground. Also allows sunlight to hit ground.
    Fire and rebirth I have read makes our forests more

  30. geogypsy June 26th, 2010 9:35 PM

    OMG! What a place to be during this tragic fire. Of course you’d have no idea when starting in the am. Although I don’t think that could be mistaken for a cloud, unless you are a blind geek. ;) Your images are spectacular! You were in the wrong place at the right time. Glad I saw your link on Wayne’s blog. It looked like a mushroom cloud all the way from the North Rim that day.

  31. Butch Davies June 28th, 2010 10:24 AM

    this fire was cause by a careless camper not putting out his camp fire up in the area of schulch tank/horsecamp. It followed the trail of the raido fire some 30+years ago. Down across the face go the peaksjumped highway 89 near the summet trhreatened several housing communities at the very foot of the pass, all of which were evacuated along with the two notional monuments in the path,Sunset Crater and waiputki

  32. Don Martin June 28th, 2010 12:36 PM

    Nice photos, but didn’t you understand that it is illegal to go off trail on the mountain?

    Don’t be suprised if the USFS sends you a notice!

  33. admin June 28th, 2010 1:28 PM

    @Don Martin: Thanks for your blog comment. We were on the trail the entire time. What made you think we were off-trail? There are little flags every couple of dozen yards or so, it’s mostly a pretty clear path except for a few spots near the top.

  34. Logan July 24th, 2010 6:58 PM

    WOW! My friend and I hiked the peaks the night before/down that morning (we probably passed you, we left the top at about 830am).
    Insane how quickly it grew. We were wondering if anyone we had passed had gotten any photos from the top. Leave it to google for me to find it. Wonderful images. Tragic, but wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

    Logan Brumm

  35. dEbRa RiChTeR August 1st, 2010 11:55 AM

    Wow, I lived in Flagstafff for many years between 69- 91 and actually witnessed the fire on Mt. Elden. Looking at these pics it brings back memories of this fire the only difference, I lived at the base of Mt. Elden so the reality of it was RiGhT in our faces. Although I no longer reside there it is still heartfelt for me. GlaD everyone made it ok.

  36. karen koestner October 30th, 2010 12:25 AM

    Hey these photos are amazing! I work for Rocky Mountain Research Station (Forest Service research) and have been working in the burn perimeter for the past three months doing geomorphologic research on the debris flows and sedimentation that has resulted post-fire. I was wondering if I could possibly use one of you images (and credit you of course) in a presentation for the Geological Society of America and potentially future presentations. Let me know what you think–and if you would like to see some of the erosion that has ocured along the waterline I would be happy to send you one of my photos. Thanks-

  37. Dan Neary February 17th, 2011 6:57 PM

    Amazing photos. Thanks for sharing them. Is it OK to use them in presentations, with due credit to you.
    Cheers. DAN NEARY Research Soils Scinetist, Rocky Mountain Research Station, U.S. Forest Service, Flagstaff.

  38. Mila Alvarez October 3rd, 2017 9:28 AM

    Dan, thank you for sharing these images and story. Any chance I can use one of them in a non-lucrative educational piece?

    I am happy to provide you with more details.


  39. Dan Greenspan October 12th, 2017 1:43 PM

    Of course. I’l send you an email.

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