El Niño’s dry conditions may spur bad Arizona wildfire season

FLAGSTAFF – Fire officials in Flagstaff are preparing for wildfire season as El Niño unexpectedly left Arizona with dry conditions that can spark fire danger.

Southwest dry this fire season
“El Niño was expected to bring wetter than normal conditions to the Southwest but that’s not what happened this year,” said Brian Klimowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

“Many locations in northern Arizona have had less than 25 to even 50 percent of the normal expected precipitation,” Klimowski said.

Fire season extends from April through June because those are the driest months of the year with windy and warm conditions.

Just how bad the fire season will be depends on whether the state is doused with rainfall, Klimowski said.

Wildfire preparations in Flagstaff
Fire officials in Flagstaff are preparing for a rough fire season, just in case.

“We have been doing a lot of fuel treatments and thinning (of vegetation) around the city to prepare for that eventuality,” said Jerolyn Burne, a specialist with Flagstaff Wildland Fire Management. “It has proven successful with many wildfires that have been in our area.”

One resident’s wildfire story
The Schutlz Fire in 2010 led to evacuations of more than 700 buildings in Flagstaff.

Tina Adams, a Flagstaff resident, said she and her husband were asleep when officials called to tell them to evacuate.

“When the phone woke us up, I went out and looked up at the mountains and I took a picture, and It just looked like an angry face,” Adams said. “I woke up my husband and said come and look, it’s like right in our backyard.”

Adams said the worst part about coming home after being evacuated was seeing how much the mountains were destroyed by the fire.

“It was heartbreaking.”