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Wildfire conditions as bad or worse than last year

PHOENIX – It appears all of the ingredients are in place for a dangerous wildfire season.

Last year, a record one million acres burned across the state of Arizona, including 535,000 acres in the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in recorded Arizona history. That fire forced the evacuation of thousands of people in Alpine, Eagar, Greer, Nutrioso and Springerville. The Wallow Fire started just days after it snowed and Arizona’s high country had below-normal snowpack that melted weeks ahead of normal.

All these conditions are the same or worse this time around.

“Trees are starving for water,” said wildfire expert Eric Neitzel. “There’s so much competition in the forest for water. Every tree is wanting a drink. I’m not saying climate change but we are having warmer, drier seasons, so there is change. In the White Mountains it seems to be blowing harder and warmer.”

Bark beetles have added to the wildfire recipe by killing off millions of trees.

“All of that beetle killed timber is now on the forest floor,” said Neitzel. “You get a fire in there with some wind and you could be off and running.”

And there’s another concern on the horizon. The monsoon.

“You get the pre-monsoon with dry lightning,” said Neitzel. “That could be one to three weeks of lightning with winds and that’s really dangerous. We’ll see active fires right up until the active rain really saturates us.”

With the exception of last year’s Wallow Fire — which ignited on Memorial Day weekend — most of the states largest wildfires have started in mid-June.