Firefighters in Arizona Make Dramatic Rescue of 1,000-Year-Old ‘Medusa Mother Tree’
Firefighters in the American state of Arizona had a very different rescue mission on their hands - in order to save not people but a historic tree in a national park. The tree is up to 1000 years old and it is one of the most famous in the South-West United States. It was desperately hoped that the fire service could save the ancient tree from the wildfire which is one of the most serious in the state of Arizona in recent years.
The tree located in the “Tonto National Forest has gone by many names” according to Information Buzzer news site. Today the tree is known as the Medusa Mother Tree. It is very tall and has a massive trunk. As the largest tree in the area it has earned the title of ‘mother tree’. It is estimated to be between 600 and 1000 years old and it was growing before Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas.
The Medusa Mother Tree
The Azcentral news site, reports that the Medusa Mother Tree is “an alligator juniper named for the flakiness of its bark”. It appears that the tree has survived many forest fires throughout the centuries, and this can be seen in the many burn-marks that scar its branches. Forest fires are a regular feature of life in the arid climate of Arizona.
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The ancient tree is known as the Medusa Mother Tree. (US Forest Service Tonto National Forest)
This remarkable tree is located in the Superstition Wilderness in Tonto National Park, which is not far from the major city of Phoenix. Tonto is one of the biggest forestry parks in the United States. According to Azcentral, the ancient tree is located some “4,900 feet (1494 meters) into the Superstition Wilderness in a wide, flat valley near Reavis Ranch”.
This ranch is named after a recluse who lived in the wilds of the Superstition Mountains before it became part of a national park. He lived in the area during the 1870s and earned a livelihood by “growing cabbages, parsnips, and potatoes” reports Azcentral. Reavis Ranch’s apple orchard can still be seen today and is something of a local landmark.
The major fire that has been burning in the area is known as the Woodbury Fire. This wildfire which began some days ago now has reached an extent of almost 80,000 acres and so far only about 25% of it has been contained. This is despite the valiant efforts of approximately 1,000 local firefighters and volunteers. Many people and their pets have been evacuated from their homes, but thankfully there have been no reports of fatalities or injuries.
The Woodbury Fire, which threatens the ancient tree, has reached an extent of almost 80,000 acres. (US Forest Service Tonto National Forest / Facebook)
Fire Crews Battle to Save the Ancient Tree
The local fire department took steps to safeguard the historic Medusa Mother Tree and to save it from the raging flames. The Azcentral quotes Kay Beall, an information officer with the local fire department as stating that firefighters took “efforts to put some protection measures in place in the area, and they think that was successful”. These measures were taken in response to calls on social media for the ancient tree to be saved. This is a sign of how important the historic tree is for those who live in the general area.
Among the measures that were taken is the dropping of “chemical-filled ping-pong ball-like spheres from the air to start a low-intensity fire around the Medusa Mother tree to burn off fuels” reports Information Buzzer. The rationale for this is that when the wildfire approaches, there would be no fuel to feed its flames. This would mean that the ancient tree would not be consumed by the conflagration. These strategies have proven effective in the past in Arizona and elsewhere.
The firefighters believe that their operation to save the tree has been successful, based on observations from the air. It seems that the fire has by-passed the mighty tree and its immediate vicinity. Not only do they believe that they managed to save the ancient tree but also the historic orchard from Reavis Ranch and the habitat of a rare bird, the Mexican Spotted Owl. However, the firefighters need to examine it on the ground to make sure it escaped the fire completely unscathed.
It seems that the Medusa Mother Tree has survived another wildfire.
Woodbury Fire personnel report that mitigation efforts in the area of the Medusa Mother Tree were successful. (US Forest Service Tonto National Forest / Facebook)
Top image: The US Forest Service fighting to save the ancient tree. Source: US Forest Service Tonto National Forest / Facebook.
By Ed Whelan