FLAGSTAFF, AZ - It's been 20 months since two tornadoes touched down in northern Arizona, but the damage still is being cleaned up.
Loggers are salvaging some 4,200 acres of trees where the tornadoes hit on Oct. 6, 2010. Some trees were uprooted, others broken off 30 feet above the ground, still others left leaning.
The rare twisters damaged about 200 homes in the small town of Bellemont, just west of Flagstaff. Thirty-three homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.
Coconino National Forest officials say paths left by the tornadoes near Blue Ridge, Munds Park, Camp Navajo and Bellemont are as wide as 400 feet and as long as 25 miles.
Arizona State Forestry and the Forest Service are hoping the loggers will get to the trees before beetles can.
Noel Carter and Ken Wicht, of High Country Timber, figure they'll take 900 truckloads of wood out of the area starting in July and working through the winter if possible.
James Perkins operates a family logging company out of Williams, driving far down Woody Mountain Road southwest of Flagstaff before dawn to start logging with six employees, including his sons. Perkins' company has been working at the site since last fall and hope to finish by October.
"I've been logging for 46 years, and this is the first tornado damage we've ever done," Perkins told The Arizona Daily Sun.
These days, they must shut down at noon each day under fire restrictions. They're waiting on word that they might be shut down altogether temporarily if it doesn't rain soon.
Perkins had to buy special heavy equipment to log the 850 acres he won in a bid. Otherwise, loggers would have to work in tandem using machinery to hold trees that are bending and under pressure, leaning sideways.
"It's harder because the trees are a mess. The trees are all laying down and crosswise," Perkins said.
By afternoon, Perkins shops around to see where he can sell the timber he's salvaging. It's been on the ground for a while, meaning it has some stains and rot that depress the timber's value.
Fuel prices put the cost of taking a truckload of logs to Phoenix at about $400, making trips of any long distance a money-losing proposition.
The trees will ultimately be turned into firewood, shipping pallets, timbers for some high-end homes, and wood chips to feed a biomass power plant in Snowflake that supplies power for about 20,000 households.
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