- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - Forest service officials say Oak Creek Canyon is showing remarkably positive signs of recovery, but flood risk as a result of last year’s Slide Fire may close the area this summer.

The Arizona Daily Sun reports (http://bit.ly/1FlXeJL) groups evaluating the burned area’s health include Rory Steinke, who’s leading the Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response team to test absorbency of soil charred by the fire.

Steinke says soil absorbency is an indicator of flood risk during monsoon season, and that risk level has already gone down by about half since last year. A series of low-intensity storms have provided moisture to help break down water-repellant oils that coat soil when wood burns.

Evacuation concerns closed the area from Sedona to the northern overlook last summer. Officials seeded and mulched about 2,200 acres to help bring the area back, and Steinke said much of that has grown to about three feet in height.

Animal populations are also coming back, said BAER team planning and wildlife biologist Heather Green. Plant growth is returning potential nesting spots for the Mexican spotted owl and northern goshawk.

Hikers are also seeing more access to the area, with only the A.B. Young trail closed this year, said Sedona Westerners hiking group president Curtis Kommer.

Red Rock district ranger Nicole Branton says she’ll consult with experts, review the research and decide in a couple weeks on closing all, part or none of the recreation area.

“We don’t want to rush into it without looking at the science, but I very much appreciate the influence this has on the economy and people’s ability to access public lands,” she said.

Slide fire broke out May 20, 2014 and eventually covered 33 square miles, burning thousands of acres of forest inside Oak Creek Canyon and along its rims.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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