AZ Prepares for 2012 Wildfire Season

The June 2011 Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history. Photo from the Southwest Incident Management Team
Last year Arizona experienced their largest wildfire in the state’s history deemed the Wallow Fire. This year forest officials are gearing up for in hopes to prevent another disaster from happening for the 2012 fire season.

“In Arizona we always have the potential for large fires, it is a fire state” said Cliff Pearlburg, Fire Information Officer for the Arizona State Forestry Division. According to Pearlburg, Arizona is “unique” in that every ecosystem is represented in the state. This makes it difficult to assess the possible severity of the annual wildfire season.

“What determines what’s going to happen during fire season is weather.  What we’re looking at is very little rain and very little snow this past year, so drought is returning to Arizona,” he said.

Annual preparations are underway throughout the state’s five fire districts. Bruce Banke, representative of the Flagstaff department, is on high alert after the Wallow Fire in June of last year, occurring in his district in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. The fire burned over a half-million acres, according to Banke.

Compared to other states that dedicate their own team to statewide wildfire efforts, Arizona’s fight starts from within these districts.

“The fire districts and city fire departments are responsible for fire within their districts, he said. “In the state of Arizona, we utilize all fire departments and personnel as our fire-fighting resources.”

These processes involve classroom and field training to ensure successes among wildfire crews. According to Pearlburg, each wild-land firefighter is required to go though annual refresher training and fitness tests.

However, Pearlburg highlights the successes of community education through the Firewise Communities Program. Under the National Fire Protection Association, the program is designed to teach citizens how to take part in wildfire prevention within their community.

“Underpowered communities do nothing to mitigate wildfire hazards…and with this program it’s teaching them that there are things to be done to protect homes so that they can withstand a wildfire if it hits,” he said.

An essential part of the program is pushing homeowners to create a perimeter around their homes free of grass, shrubbery and leaves or “fuel” for a potential wildfire.

“We always recommend creating defensible space around houses, along the principles preached in the Firewise Communities,” said Russ Shumate of the Prescott district.

This year, Pearlburg hopes to not to use up the state’s suppression fund of around a million dollars in efforts to contain wildfires.

“Some years we can get up to one to two million in what we call pre-severity money,” he said. “What it’s tied to is our anticipation for wildfire season.”

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