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Brewer hails Wallow Fire recovery
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Brewer hails Wallow Fire recovery

Governor calls for new forest management strategy

  • Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, shown here with Smokey Bear, visits the Big Lake General Store in the White Mountain region to announce that the area is open for business. More than 500,000 acres burned in the Wallow Fire.
    Brandon Quester/Cronkite News ServiceArizona Gov. Jan Brewer, shown here with Smokey Bear, visits the Big Lake General Store in the White Mountain region to announce that the area is open for business. More than 500,000 acres burned in the Wallow Fire.
  • Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer greets Myla Heuett, 4, who’s family helps to run the campground at the Big Lake Recreation Area in eastern Arizona. Brewer helped usher its grand re-opening in the White Mountain region.
    Brandon Quester/Cronkite News ServiceArizona Gov. Jan Brewer greets Myla Heuett, 4, who’s family helps to run the campground at the Big Lake Recreation Area in eastern Arizona. Brewer helped usher its grand re-opening in the White Mountain region.
  • Charred remains of trees dot the area just beyond the Big Lake Recreation Area in eastern Arizona in the wake of the Wallow Fire. The recreation area held an official re-opening Wednesday with a VIP visit from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
    Brandon Quester/Cronkite News ServiceCharred remains of trees dot the area just beyond the Big Lake Recreation Area in eastern Arizona in the wake of the Wallow Fire. The recreation area held an official re-opening Wednesday with a VIP visit from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
  • Fisherman use the Big Lake Recreation Area during its official re-opening in the White Mountain region in eastern Arizona. A victim of Arizona’s largest recorded wildfire, the area is already recovering and is filled with green grass and new growth because of heavy monsoon rains.
    Brandon Quester/Cronkite News ServiceFisherman use the Big Lake Recreation Area during its official re-opening in the White Mountain region in eastern Arizona. A victim of Arizona’s largest recorded wildfire, the area is already recovering and is filled with green grass and new growth because of heavy monsoon rains.
  • Visitors at the grand re-opening of the Big Lake General Store in eastern Arizona sign a banner thanking the firefighters and support personnel for helping with the Wallow Fire this summer.
    Brandon Quester/Cronkite News ServiceVisitors at the grand re-opening of the Big Lake General Store in eastern Arizona sign a banner thanking the firefighters and support personnel for helping with the Wallow Fire this summer.

BIG LAKE – Gov. Jan Brewer was on hand when Big Lake General Store and its surroundings reopened Wednesday, proclaiming that the area burned by the largest recorded wildfire in Arizona history is ready for visitors.

"It's open for business and people need to get up here," she said.

The store and the surrounding Big Lake Recreation Area of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest were closed in June due to the Wallow Fire, which burned across more than a half million acres and destroyed 32 homes, four commercial properties and dozens of outbuildings.

Brewer said the area retains its natural beauty and its businesses.

Rick and Clotilda Law, third-generation owners of the Big Lake General Store, said their biggest season of the year was lost.

"Something like this, it just takes a big toll," Rick Law said. "We are trying to let people know we are still here."

With nearly two months remaining in the White Mountains' recreation season, store owners like the Laws are hoping people will once again visit the area.

Pat Bruneau, who attended the event to represent businesses in nearby Greer, said the fire hurt businesses well beyond Big Lake.

"We've all suffered, and this is a difficult time for everybody," Bruneau said. "(Now) we are open for business, and we are green."

Brewer later talked with residents in Springerville, 25 miles north of Big Lake.

"We will stand with these businesses and people impacted by those fires and flooding," Brewer told the group.

She also called for changes in the way the U.S. Forest Service handles Arizona's lands.

If the money spent fighting the Wallow Fire had been applied to thinning the forest through harvesting timber, she said, hundreds of thousands of acres would have been spared.

Brewer added that she visited a site Wednesday where inmate fire crews were cleaning state trust land damaged by fire. Impressed by the crews' efficiency,

she said, "I wish that the United State Forest Service salvage efforts could move as quickly."

According to Marcia L. Pfleiderer, the district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service's Springerville region, the agency has completed 99 percent of its Burned Area Emergency Response efforts, which include mulching, seeding, erosion control and removing trees that pose dangers.

"We are in this for the long haul," said Pfleiderer, who started in the position in June.

To Brewer, who visited two burn areas and met with residents and business owners, a new forest-management strategy is needed – and soon.

"We don't have time to wait," Brewer said. "If we don't do what is right then Mother Nature will."

Wallow fire facts

  • Fire started May 29 at approximately 1:30 p.m.
  • Fire began southeast of Alpine, just west of U.S. Highway 191.
  • Total burn area reached 538,049 acres, including more than 15,000 in New Mexico.

Tucson-area cousins charged

During her visit, Brewer didn't comment on Wednesday morning's announcement by the U.S. Attorney's Office that two Southern Arizona cousins have been charged in connection with the half-million acre Wallow Fire.

Caleb and David Malboeu are accused of leaving a campfire unattended while hiking, causing the wildfire that burned for weeks in Arizona's mountains.

Brewer released a statement later in the day, saying "Today’s announcement that federal charges have been filed against two Arizona men for their alleged role in causing this fire will not bring back the forest, nor undo the damage done. My hope, however – if these two individuals are truly at-fault – is that this news will be another step in the healing process for those who have suffered greatly from this damaging fire."

"With the privilege of using Arizona’s beautiful lands comes great responsibility. The devastation we’ve seen this spring and summer is a stark reminder to all Arizonans visiting our forests and mountains to use special care whenever handling fire," Brewer said in the news release.

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