Arizona wildfire season is already ahead of previous year’s pace

Jun 3, 2020, 6:29 AM | Updated: 8:36 am
(10 Tanker Air Carrier Photo)...
(10 Tanker Air Carrier Photo)
(10 Tanker Air Carrier Photo)

PHOENIX – Less than three weeks before the start of summer, Arizona wildfire season is in high gear.

A 980-acre human-caused Ocotillo Fire in Cave Creek destroyed eight homes last Saturday and forced hundreds of evacuations before it was fully contained Tuesday. It was the second fire in Cave Creek in the past two weeks.

There are several fires burning across the state, the largest being in the Superstition Mountains called the Sawtooth Fire, which has burned more than 21,000 acres with 8 percent containment as of Tuesday.

A handful of residents were evacuated.

A carpet of brush and weeds created by heavy winter rainfall has turned into fire fuel across the desert, according to Maricopa Fire and Medical Assistant Chief Brad Pitassi.

“It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” he said.

Pitassi and the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team takes command of the Sawtooth Fire on Wednesday.

“We’re anticipating challenges (which includes protecting firefighters from COVID-19),” he said.

“Our firefighters in the Southwest are some of the best in the nation. We’re proud of the work they’re doing and the courage they’re showing in dealing with the fire season in this new arena that we’re in.”

As of early Wednesday about 75,000 acres have burned this year compared with about 10,000 acres at this point last year.

Lightning-caused fires account for about 55,000 acres but of the 771 wildfires this year, 741 were human caused.

Tiffany Davila with Arizona Forestry and Fire Management says abandoned campfires, unsecured tow chains and target shooting have been responsible for many of the fires.

Daisy Mountain Fire and Medical has battled several wildfires already this year. Department spokesman Paul Schickel says people need to clear at least a 30-foot defensible space around home and property.

They should also trim low-hanging branches to at least 6 feet to 10 feet off the ground so the fire can’t leap from the ground into trees and then onto homes.

“We’re really trying to get people to understand how dry these fuels are and how quickly these fires spread,” he said.

Fire season won’t end until the heavy monsoon rainfall arrives.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, says fire danger in Arizona will be higher than average through July.

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Arizona wildfire season is already ahead of previous year’s pace