Get ready for a busy year fighting wildfires, experts in Arizona warn

(Video by Rylee Walter/Cronkite News)

Arizona already has seen a few fires this year, and experts say the state is likely to experience another major year for wildfires.

In April alone, the Margo Fire in Pinal County burned about 1,100 acres, and another blaze continues to burn southwest of Heber. On Monday, a fire started southeast of Whiteriver and has burned 1,300 acres, according to InciWeb. Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, said there likely will be widespread fire activity across the state by June.

One reason, Davila said, is plentiful dried vegetation that fuels fire.

“When we’re talking about early activity in those particular areas, central and southern Arizona, we still have a carryover of fine fuel from last year and some unburned areas,” Davila said. “It’s just pretty much an abundance of this grass fuel type.”

Arizona had one of the driest monsoon seasons on record last year, and much of the state is in severe to exceptional drought. That’s not expected to change any time soon.

“We didn’t see as much rain or snow,” said Andrew Deemer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix. “So that proposes the question, how did those plants respond? Going out in the desert, listening to the fire folks who are out there gauging those fuels, looking at satellite imagery, we’re definitely not seeing the kind of (vegetation) growth that we saw in 2020.”

On April 12, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management shared this photo on Twitter, saying the Margo Fire near Dudleyville was 100% contained at 1,148 acres. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management)

The NWS works with partners to give detailed forecasts that could affect fire activity. The information helps first responders fight fires in the safest way possible.

“Our goal is 30 minutes or less, get that data out there to the folks who really need it, because they’re making decisions,” Deemer said. “The last thing we want to do is, you know, have anyone’s life on the line, because they’re not aware of a wind shift, or the potential for lightning strikes.”

When conditions are ripe for fires, it’s important for everyone in the state to stay cautious. A fire near Dudleyville in Pinal County earlier this month was human caused. Dolores Garcia, with the state Bureau of Land Management office in Phoenix, said Arizonans should remember to completely put out their campfires, properly stow tow chains and make sure car tires are properly inflated and in sound condition to prevent blowouts.

“Most of the fires we do have that start in Arizona are preventable,” Garcia said. “We really want to encourage people that they don’t want to be that person that starts that one wildfire that takes out homes, communities, and is a threat to public health and safety.”

Rylee Walter ry-lee wal-ter
News Reporter, Phoenix

Rylee Walter expects to graduate in May 2021 with degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in tourism development and management. Walter, who has worked as a reporting intern at the city of Phoenix’s PHXTV, is working for Cronkite News this spring.