TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The Woodbury Fire torched nearly 125,000 acres of the Tonto National Forest this past summer. It became the 5th-largest wildfire in Arizona history, and archaeologists may never know the full extent of the damage the fire inflicted on ancient Indian ruins scattered throughout the scorched area.
There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 archaeological sites in the Tonto National Forest, according to United States Forest Service archaeologist Steve Germick. But only about 11,000 of them have been explored and documented.
Germick says there is no question that some of the smaller, lesser-known and unknown sites were damaged by the fire and by erosion from the rains that came after the vegetation burned away. Erosion can unearth, move and damage buried artifacts.
One of the most pristine examples of the dwellings that the people of the Salado culture built is located right in the middle of the Woodbury Fire burn area. The ruins at Roger's Canyon are estimated to be roughly 800 years old and consist of an ancient pueblo, which was built inside a cave. The fire did not affect this site. "It did actually burn through [that area]. But, fortunately, since the site is in a cave-- for the most part-- there was a lot of vegetation around it. But there wasn’t any real threat to the site," Germick said.
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