Arizona governor warns of difficult fire season
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona’s governor issued an outlook Thursday for an especially difficult wildfire season because of record dry winter conditions.
Flanked by forest and fire officials and rows of firefighters outside the state Capitol building, Gov. Doug Ducey called on everyone to prevent fires across Arizona, where dry vegetation from the desert to pine forests has provided an abundance of fuel this year for destructive and sometimes deadly blazes.
“Arizona is familiar with the devastation that wildfires can bring,” he said. “But there’s no beating around the bush, we expect these conditions to make the fire season especially challenging. ”
Ducey noted his announcement earlier this month that he was doubling his request from $1 million to $2 million for fire prevention funding, including to remove hazardous vegetation that can feed flames, because of Arizona’s record dry winter conditions.
He said that at January’s end, Phoenix had seen only .44 inches (11 millimeters) of rain for the winter so far, compared to the average of 2.85 inches (72.4 millimeters) for that period.
The latest U.S. drought map from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln notes the especially dry weather across the Southwest. It says the above-normal temperatures over the last few months, combined with a lack of sufficient precipitation around most of the Southwest has led to the continuation of drought in much of the region.
“Please be extra-cautious this fire season as you enjoy the great outdoors in Arizona,” said Ducey, adding that the majority of the wildfires around the state are caused by people’s activities, such as dragging trailer chains that can spark. Others are sparked by campfires or cigarettes that are not extinguished properly.
The governor recalled the wildfire near Yarnell that was sparked by lightning on June 28, 2013. Nineteen Prescott city firefighters, members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, were overwhelmed by the fire and killed three days later.
State Forester Jeff Whitney said he was concerned about wildfires in the upcoming spring and summer months, noting that already three large ones were been burning in the state two weekends ago. The season generally starts in the spring and continues through the fall, but wildfires can erupt anytime of the year.
Whitney said that this year, people who live in areas vulnerable to wildfires should be prepared in case they are called upon to evacuate their homes, and to cooperate with authorities if asked to leave.
Whitney said that the grasslands that burned in the state last year have subsequently regrown because of summer monsoon rains. But he noted this past fall, as well as the winter, had been exceptionally dry.
The forester said that this year he was worried about fires across all kinds of vegetation. In Arizona, that can include grasslands, chaparral and pine forests.
“Every fuel level at every elevation in the state is my concern,” Whitney said.
Separately, the governor’s office this week issued a list of fire prevention tips for people around the state, calling on them to make sure campfires are extinguished and cool to the touch before leaving campsites and to trim trees and other plants and mow grass around their homes.
People are also advised to keep flammable materials away from property and to avoid letting trailer chains dangle from truck beds.