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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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Two National Park Service wildland engines and some members of the cross-trained and cross-equipped fire crews protecting the Grand Canyon from wildfires.

Fire apparatus consists of several modern full-size structural pumpers, several wildland engines and water tenders/tankers strategically stationed in built-up areas in the park. All of the firefighting personnel are cross-trained and cross-equipped for SWI fires.

Forty National Park Service wildland firefighters who are cross-trained operate under the direction of Fire Chief R. Kent Mecham and Douglas P. Ottosen, a wildfire specialist. It is a federal fire service. There are also 14 structural firefighters who are also cross-trained and are members of a combination fire and security service that is privately owned and operated by a park concessionaire. All of the firefighters operate under the incident command system.

Additional fire apparatus can respond upon request from Tusayan Airport, about four miles south of the park, and from the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Arizona State Lands and other fire departments farther to the south or north of the park (the town of Williams, AZ, is 70 miles to the south; the city of Flagstaff is 82 miles south). Obviously, distance and time are critical planning factors in the event of a serious fire threat.

Evacuation Plan

An evacuation plan was prepared in response to the large numbers of visitors and residents populating the park, the limited access and the threat of a fast-moving wildfire that would close the park.

Excerpts of the GCNP evacuation plan:

  • It is the policy of the National Park Service and the Grand Canyon National Park to provide for the safety of the visiting public and the residential community.
  • The plan has been developed with the joint cooperation of the Grand Canyon National Park, Coconino County Sheriff's Department, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona Department of Public Safety and Fred Harvey Company (a park concessionaire).
  • The incident command system and a unified command are implemented. Additional resources include 50 emergency medical personnel, 50 law enforcement officers, 70-80 additional wildland fire personnel from surrounding national forests, bulldozers, numerous other trained personnel, ambulances, buses and other vehicles for rapid transport out of the GCNP to safe places of refuge.

The plan is quite extensive and also provides for evacuation/collection areas, safety zones, shelters, security and traffic-control routes.

The National Park Service, other state and federal agencies, and private commercial interests have worked together to provide as fire safe an environment as is possible at the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the greatest and most popular natural wonders of our world.


Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a district fire chief in the Boston Fire Department with extensive experience and training in wildland and SWI protection. Questions and comments may be sent to him via e-mail at dfcwins@idt.net