- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - An area between Flagstaff and Sedona severely damaged by a major wildfire two years ago is recovering better than expected.

“The watershed is still recovering, but we’re well on our way to see that post-fire recovery,” said Amina Sena, a hydrologist for the Red Rock Ranger District.

Wildlife and forest experts say negative long-term effects on aquatic life and water quality haven’t manifested and that vegetation around Oak Creek Canyon is thriving.

Experts had warned immediately after the fire that potential flooding could lead to fatalities.

Marie McCormick, executive director of the Oak Creek Watershed Council, told the Arizona Daily Sun (http://bit.ly/296IeUf) that the burn area has escaped monsoon rains over the last two years that would have caused flooding. Moderate amounts of moisture have bolstered new plant growth.

The blaze, known as the Slide Fire, broke out May 20, 2014, and eventually covered 33 square miles, burning thousands of acres of forest inside the canyon and along its rims.

The impact stifled tourism in parts of the Sedona area and temporarily closed Slide Rock State Park.

Rory Steinke, a retired Forest Service soil scientist who led the agency’s team for burned area emergency response, said flood risk has been reduced. Grass and shrubs within the scarred burn area are now grown enough to help prevent accelerated erosion and runoff. The Forest Service even nixed another monitoring assessment of the area this year.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department has been watching the upper portions of Oak Creek and the lower portions of West Fork for any short-term effects on fish and other aquatic life. The creek is home to brown trout, rainbow trout, gila trout and Sonora sucker. So far, the department hasn’t seen any significant changes.

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

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