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Fire officials predict bad fire season for Arizona

PHOENIX -- A dire prediction is out from the Forest Service with Arizona just weeks away from the 2013 wildfire season.

A new report said wildfires will only chew up more area in the next few years because of climate change. The area burned by wildfire is expected to at least double in the next 25 years. Wildfire expert Jim Paxon with Arizona Game and Fish said the situation has been building for a long time.

"Firefighters have been watching this situation. The last time we had normal winter snow coupled with a normal monsoon was 1992 to 1993. This is a very serious situation."

Paxon said the forests are a tinderbox because of bark beetles, which have killed off millions of trees in the west. The tree-destroying insects thrive in drought situations.

Arizona's largest wildfire on record burned more than a half-million acres in eastern Arizona in 2011. The Wallow Fire forced the evacuation of thousands of people from Alpine, Eagar, Greer and Springerville. Paxon said huge fires are going to become commonplace in our future and across the west."

"We will see a lot of half-million- to million-acre fires in the next few years."

Wildfires burned more than one million acres in Arizona in 2011 but 2012 brought a relatively tame year with about 200,000 acres charred. Colorado and New Mexico had devastating, record-setting wildfires. More than nine million acres burned in the lower 48 states, which is the third-highest year on record.

"We've had record high temperatures in Missoula, Mont. when it was warmer than Phoenix. This is crazy weather. If we don't clean up the forests Mother Nature will. And when she does it we start over. Her broom sweeps the forests clean."

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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