PHOENIX — Recent warm weather, dry conditions and a spate of brush fires
on the outskirts of major cities in Arizona and New Mexico are prompting
warnings that the 2014 wildfire season is already underway.
In the Albuquerque area, Lt. Michael Everett of the Bernalillo County Fire
Department said fire conditions are already dangerous because there’s been
little rain or snow. “It is starting early, and everybody needs to be aware,
just be very careful,” Everett said.
In Arizona desert areas, Rural/Metro Fire Department spokesman Colin Williams
said conditions are more like those typically seen in May, not February.
In fact, conditions in some places on the outskirts of the Phoenix area
resemble the brush-choked area in western Yavapai County where 19 firefighters
perished last year in the Yarnell Hill Fire, Williams said. “There’s a lot of
fuel,” he said.
Williams said a human-caused brush fire near Saguaro Lake on the Phoenix area’s
eastern outskirts on Monday was troubling.
“I was surprised about how hot it burned, how fast it moved, and how intense
it was,” Williams said.
The flames jumped part of the Salt River in one spot, which is flowing at a
much lower level than normal, also because of the drought.
A brush fire in Belen, south of Albuquerque, was the fourth wildfire reported
in the area in two days. The fire burned a shed and several acres of grass.
There’s also concern in timber country in higher elevations where lower than
normal precipitation levels have left forests vulnerable.
“Due to the unseasonably warm and dry weather during this winter, fire danger
is very high and people should exercise extreme caution with smoking materials
and campfires,” the Flagstaff Fire Department said in a news release about a
fire that started in a transient camp in a wooded area.
Everett said his crew takes every smoke call it gets seriously and that the
fire season could be a long one. “It is going to get worse before it gets
better,” he said.
The National Weather Service said temperatures in much of Arizona will dip
closer to seasonal norms by Thursday but that dry conditions will remain.
In New Mexico, forecasters said “critical fire weather conditions” will
likely return late Wednesday to areas without significant snowpack.