SWI Fire Protection At Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) is one of the great "Wonders of the World." It is a geological marvel of nature that has been, and continues to be, carved out of rock by the mighty Colorado River. The GCNP is located in far northern Arizona, where...


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The Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) is one of the great "Wonders of the World." It is a geological marvel of nature that has been, and continues to be, carved out of rock by the mighty Colorado River. The GCNP is located in far northern Arizona, where the climate is fairly dry most of the year. Measuring 277 miles in length, the park contains 1,218,375 acres covering 1,904 square miles. It is divided into the North Rim, at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, and the South Rim, at an elevation of about 7,000 feet.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
One of the largest hotels in the Grand Canyon National Park is of rustic wood-frame construction.


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Photo by Robert M. Winston
This is a typical structural wildland interzone that is so prevalent at the Grand Canyon National Park.

Because of the Canyon's popularity, it is visited by more than 5 million people every year; its peak tourist season is from April through October. During any given day, the population of the Canyon can be well over 10,000. Many of these people are concentrated in certain areas of the park, creating crowded conditions.

The vegetation in and around the park is in the form of combustible pine forest, brush and grasses. A variety of structure types and sizes lie within the park boundaries, ranging from small, rustic cabins to a large, high-population hotel filled to capacity with visitors and tourists. Most of these structures are built of the older style of wood-frame construction.

The extreme hazard of the structural wildland interzone (wild-land/urban interface) and life safety from fire are important considerations. The park averages 75-100 wildfires per year that range in size from a quarter acre to thousands of acres. This year, for example, a wildfire on the north rim of the GCNP grew in size to over 4,000 acres.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
A safety training session is attended by some of the Grand Canyon National Park firefighters to learn helicopter operations. The helicopter is brand new and is used for transport, search & rescue and fire suppression operations.


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Photo by Robert M. Winston
A U.S. Forest Service wildland engine fire crew trains on the use of Class A foam at the Grand Canyon National Park.

Other types of fires are not a common occurrence, but EMS calls are on the increase. Visitors not accustomed to the high elevations of the park can suffer from high-altitude sickness. A more serious effect of the reduced amount of oxygen at 7,000 to 8,000 feet is coronary difficulties. And there are occasional search and rescue operations for lost visitors.

Fire Protection Plan

The GCNP's fire protection plan and standard operating procedures (SOPs) consist of structural, wildland, and combined structural/wildland and evacuation scenarios. Life safety is always the first consideration. Water supply is provided via a wet hydrant system under pressure in certain areas and/or via water tenders/tankers on the ground. Water-dropping operations from the sky are provided via helicopter and/or fixed-wing air tankers.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Two of the structural engines and cross-trained/cross-equipped firefighters protecting the Grand Canyon National Park and its millions of visitors.

The park's urban interface response plan provides for a pre-planned response to wildland/structural fire incidents that pose an immediate threat to life or property. The plan notes it is important that close coordination of resources occurs for any wildland/structural fire within the urban interface.

A "Preparedness Level and Fire Danger" rating system was developed for this response plan. Ratings range from Level 1 (a low fire danger, activating a limited engine/personnel response) to Level 5 (extreme fire danger). Level 5 activates the following response: preparedness level announced; available structural and wildland engines respond; Helitack with bucket and crew ready; law enforcement for scene control/evacuation; check availability of air tankers; order additional resources; medic units on standby; and water tender/tanker with port-a-tank(s) staged for helicopter operations.

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