‘Very extreme’ wildfire potential in Arizona this year

Wet weather last year and the predicted hot, dry spring and summer will result in a “very extreme” potential for forest fires this year.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the state has problems hiring people to fight the fires once they break out.

“The above-normal rainfall we had during the monsoon season, and the above-normal precipitation we had in December, have given much more vegetation and much more growth to our vegetation,” said John Truett, Arizona Fire Chief, on Thursday.

“Then we had drier than normal conditions for the last three months, which have now dried out all these fuels to be available for wildfires.”

John Truett, the state’s fire chief, describes the factors he said could lead to a particularly dangerous fire season when Governor Doug Ducey listens.

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

Even the areas that were burned in the last two years – 900,000 hectares in 2020 and 500,000 in 2021 – are not immune from being in the risk zone again, Truett said.

“All of these have got a lot of grass growing in them,” he said. “So they could actually burn again now.”

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Competition for firefighters

At the same time, Truett noted, the extreme drought across the western world has left Arizona in “fierce competition” with other federal, state and local governments to find qualified individuals to fight such fires.

“We have a hard time filling our vacancies,” he said. “We go out and recruit. We simply do not have enough people who are willing to come out and do the job we do. “

A look back at Bighorn Fire in pictures

He said the state currently has more than 80 firefighters, and declined to say how many vacancies remain in his department of forestry and fire management.

It is not only the permanent jobs that matter, Truett said, but also the seasonal services that the state is trying to fill now.

Prevention first

That’s part of why it’s crucial to try to stop fires from starting in the first place, he said.

Part of it is about the usual warnings not to burn on windy days, make sure that if you pull a trailer that the chain does not scratch the ground and cause sparks, and not to pull a vehicle into tall grass where the hot catalyst can ignite material.

At a more proactive level, the state is trying to reduce dangerous vegetation.

Arizona has historically tried to “treat” about 4,000 to 5,000 acres per year and has a goal this year to reach 20,000 acres. It does not count similar programs run by the US Forest Service.

Means for crews

One thing that helps to achieve that goal is that the state trains low-risk prisoners to do part of this thinning.

On Wednesday, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry graduated its most recent crew of more than 100 to help with that job.

Governor Doug Ducey said he is proposing an additional $ 36 million for the Healthy Forest Initiative in his budget for the coming fiscal year for continued expansion of captive herds and other programs to help clear dangerous vegetation, bringing the total allocated to more than $ 42 million .

Government correctional officials said the program, which involves inmates using equipment and machinery used in the wood industry, can provide them with skills to help them find work after completing their sentences.

The governor said he is also investing another $ 17 million in a revolving fund that will be used to replace local fire brigades that help respond to forest fires.

A look back at Bighorn Fire in pictures

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and has been covering state policy and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at “@azcapmedia” or email azcapmedia@gmail.com.


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