Dry wilderness, high winds mean fire season

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
A firefighter fights a massive wildfire in eastern Arizona in June, 2011. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

As the seasons change and the wilderness of Southern Arizona rises in humidity, so does the fire danger.

According to Chris George, wildland coordinator for the Avra Valley Fire District, the drought has lead to a label of “Extreme” fire danger throughout Arizona. “It’s all moisture dependent. The lower elevations dry out quickly leading to a higher fire danger until the weather changes and the monsoons moisten the land again.”

Reckless behavior is the biggest ever contributor to wildfires whether it be from campfires, negligently discarded cigarettes, or intentional arson. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the 2015 fire season set a record for the number of acres burned in the United States. There were 68,151 wildfires, which burned over ten million acres.

The Wallow fire, which burned in the summer of 2011, was the largest wildfire in state history. It was started after campers left a fire  unattended and scorched 500,000 acres in Northeastern Arizona.

According to Arizona State Forestry data, in 2015, 352 out of 404 fires on federal land, more than 87 percent, were caused by humans. Of the 304 fires reported this year, 296 were human-caused.

But man isn’t the only menace contributing to burning Arizona wilderness. According to George, lightning, fuel, weather and topography are also key contributors.

But is the burning of wild lands always a terrible disaster?  Wildfires reset the landscape making it possible for seeds to spread and a new generation of forest to emerge.

Fire suppression techniques used in past decades could come back to haunt the wilderness in the future.  A buildup of vegetation and fuel in the ground has grown to dangerously high levels, meaning that when a fire is finally  too big to suppress, it will burn longer, and larger, than ever before.

Wildfires in the West are becoming more frequent.

The forest service is pushing to provide a nationwide program, which educates homeowners on how to fireproof their property.

The program offers in-person and online courses in fire recognition, landscaping and evacuation techniques.

For more information about prevention and how to keep your family and property protected, visit the Firewise Communities Program website.

Nathan Delfs os a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at delfs@email.arizona.edu



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