Fire-ravaged soil provokes thoughts of healing - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Fire-ravaged soil provokes thoughts of healing

August 31st, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Fire-ravaged soil provokes thoughts of healing

By Lynne Hartke
Guest Writer

“Flash flood warnings in Flagstaff,” I said to my husband Kevin as a text message pinged on my phone. 

“Where?” Kevin asked, as he positioned a chair on the back deck of our cabin in northern Arizona. 

I enlarged the tiny map on my phone. “Past burn areas.”

Since we became cabin owners in northern Arizona, we regularly received updates from Coconino National Forest regarding excessive winds, wildfires, or flash flooding.

 I always assumed that fire-damaged areas of wilderness were susceptible to flooding because the vegetation was destroyed, leaving behind a clear path for monsoon waters to surge.

That was partially true. There is another reason. A deeper reason. 

The soil itself is damaged.

While healthy soil contains multiple air pockets that fill with water during a rainstorm—like a sponge—unhealthy soil does not always respond that way.

During a fire, the debris burning on the forest floor releases a gas that is forced down into the soil. The longer and hotter the fire burns, the deeper the gas travels. When the fire ends, the gas cools into a wax-like material that plugs the air holes, making it difficult for water to penetrate the soil. 

The soil then acts more like a roof, than a sponge, a condition known as hydrophobicity. 

In July, I traveled west of Flagstaff to spend a morning hiking at Red Mountain. On the way back, I stopped along Highway 180 at the remains of the Slate Fire which burned 11,434 acres in the summer of 2021. 

As I stared at the charred trees and scorched ground, I knew soil was not the only thing damaged during long seasons of destruction. Words could burn too. Words spoken in anger. In polarity. In mistrust. In backlash. In hard lines drawn deep. 

I had been burned by the words. So. Many. Words. My heart was in danger of becoming a roof, rather than a sponge, where the cleansing summer rains could not penetrate. 

Was healing possible?

Ezekiel 36:26 NLT promises, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

“Soften my heart,” I breathed, “as I move in my spheres of influence.” 

Starting the car, I noticed a splash of purple from the corner of my eye. Next to a pile of toppled and blackened trees, a single lupine bloomed. 

The violet spike waved in the breeze like a banner of hope – the first evidence of soil recovery. 

Lynne Hartke is the wife of pastor and Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke. She is the author of “Under and Desert Sky” and writes at Info on hydrophobicity was adapted from a Facebook post on June 26, 2022 by the U.S. Forest Service – Coconino National Forest.