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Historian: 2012 fire season has been building for decades

PHOENIX, Ariz. — “This is just the season for big fires and we go through this every year with it being hot, dry and windy leading into the monsoon,” said Arizona State University Professor Steve Pyne.

According to Pyne, all of that is folding into decades of change in how fire is managed on the public lands. Climate change and two decades of drought in Arizona also play a role.

“The climate we’re seeing now is not outside of historic range,” he said. “This is not 2002 when we were off the charts. We’re going to see more large fires and part of that is because of policy. We’re going to see entire mountain ranges burned over as we’re seeing right now in New Mexico.

“Big fires are not always bad fires. We have a legacy of letting fuels build up on the lands and putting homes and communities in risky places. There is no simple solution to [stopping big fires] but it is not beyond our capability to solve.”

Pyne said the large area fires that are high intensity is what is different from the past.

“We used to deal with large grassland fires and they didn’t produce the intensity we’re seeing now,” he said.

Pyne said we can’t just wipe out 130 years of history — what has and hasn’t been done — but he added efforts are under way to curb big fires and he points to the Four Forest Restoration Initiative as a way of helping.

The contract will result in 300,000 acres of restoration-based thinning over 10 years
It is the first large step of a 20-year plan to restore 2.4 million acres of ponderosa pine forest in northern Arizona in the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto National Forests.

Pyne said he doesn’t expect Arizona to see another 500,000-acre fire like last year’s Wallow blaze but said the state is reaching the maximum potential month for wildfires.