Gov. Doug Ducey, fire officials: Prepare for an unpredictable wildfire season

Fire officials from across the state joined Gov. Doug Ducey on the Arizona Capitol lawn Wednesday morning to warn Arizonans that the 2016 wildfire season could be one of the state’s worst in years.

“We are going to hope for the best, but we’re going to plan for the worst,” Ducey said.

In fact, he says it has already begun.

“Already, in the first quarter of this year, we have had 293 wildfires charring 21,383 acres of Arizona,” he said. “To put that in perspective, by this time last year, Arizona had experienced 147 fires burning 453 acres.”

State Forester Jeff Whitney said that this year, the fires are different.

“They are bigger and they are harder to suppress,” Whitney said.

He said he is concerned that this season could be as bad as the 2002 season, known for the Rodeo-Chedski Fire, or the 2011 season, known for the Wallow Fire.

There are many reasons that officials are concerned.

“Much of this has to due with our dry climate conditions, disposition to summer drought, a significant fuels problem and an increased potential for destructive dry lightning strikes just before the monsoon season,” Ducey said.

Whitney said a lot of it has to do with the higher rainfalls we had last year and lack of fires the state had this year to clear it out.

“We are concerned because of the moisture we received last year. We have more fuel out there on the landscape,” Whitney said.

While officials accept that wildfires come along with the Arizona landscape, they are more concerned with human mistakes.

“Ninety percent of our wildfires, if not more, are started by humans,” said Brian Perrone, the superintendent of the Globe DOC Crew.

Ducey echoed his point citing unattended camp fires, discarded cigarettes, hot exhaust pipes and other careless acts as sources of some fires.

StoryMap: Track the 10 worst wildfires in modern Arizona history.