FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Authorities in southeastern Arizona put residents on
notice Tuesday that they might have to evacuate because of a wildfire burning in
the Huachuca Mountains. Meanwhile, officials in northern Arizona were preparing
to enact fire restrictions about a month earlier than normal.
Low humidity, high winds and an ongoing drought are testing firefighters
battling the 366-acre Brown Fire in the steep, rugged terrain of the Huachuca
Mountains. Crews were helicoptered in to construct fire lines on a ridge to keep
the blaze from escaping a bowl in a canyon. Air tankers were dropping fire
retardant on the wildfire, while helicopters dropped water.
“They’re optimistic they can hold it where it is,” said Heidi Schewel, a
spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest. “A wind event could change
A top-level federal management team was scheduled to take over Tuesday night.
The blaze wasn’t threatening any structures. But officials planned a public
meeting Tuesday night in Hereford to address any concerns from residents, many
of whom recall the 30,000-acre Monument Fire that burned portions of the
Huachuca Mountains in 2011 and destroyed dozens of homes.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty now with a new fire, and we want to make
ourselves available to hear people’s concerns,” Schewel said.
Law enforcement officers were handing out pre-evacuation fliers to residents
and encouraging them to pack a bag. The exact cause of the Brown Fire is under
investigation, but it has been determined to be caused by human activity.
On the opposite end of the state, firefighters were wrapping up containment on
a 145-acre wildfire that sent huge plumes of smoke into the air when it started
Friday near Flagstaff. At the time, dozens of people were gathered in Flagstaff
to be trained on how to keep watch over the forests for wildfire activity.
An April 10 report from the Southwest Coordination Center showed that nearly
270 wildfires across Arizona have charred 1,000 acres this year. Most of those
are small and caused by human activity.
Fire officials hope to prevent some human-caused wildfires by limiting the
areas people can smoke and have open fires. The lowest level of restrictions for
Prescott, Flagstaff, and the Coconino, Tonto, Prescott and parts of the Kaibab
national forests go into effect Friday morning.
“We could have a long fire season ahead of us, and we need members of the
public to work with us to prevent human-caused starts,” Coconino National
Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart said.
Paul Summerfelt, wildland fire management officer for Flagstaff Fire
Department, said charcoal grills at city parks will be covered, and “no
smoking” signs will go up along trails in Flagstaff. Various agencies have been
giving presentations at homeless shelters on fire danger, sending out messages
via social media and making sure equipment is ready and personnel are trained,
he said. A seasonal fire crew starts work next week, about a month early.
“The conditions are such that we can expect to have an active fire season,”
he said. “Will we have the ignitions? That’s the key.”