With wildfire season looming, Arizona officials urge public to be cautious

Mar 22, 2021, 5:30 PM | Updated: Mar 23, 2021, 7:12 am

A view of the Bighorn Fire burning in the Catalina Mountains on June 11, 2020, in Tucson, Arizona. ...

A view of the Bighorn Fire burning in the Catalina Mountains on June 11, 2020, in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and state forestry officials urged the public Monday to be extra wary because of a looming wildfire season that has the potential to be exceptionally devastating due to widespread drought.

There is very little snowpack in the ponderosa pine forests that cover large parts of northern and eastern Arizona, and portions of the state with grasslands that haven’t burned recently are loaded with years of growth dried out by low rainfall.

“Most of the state is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought,” said John Truett, the fire management officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management. “We’re looking at a very severe potential out there for wildland fires and rapid fire spread across the landscape.”

The department is predicting an early fire season in central and southern Arizona that could kick up as early next month as temperatures rise. There is a potential for widespread, statewide fire activity by June. On the plus side, there are indications that this year’s summer monsoon rains will won’t repeat the no-show of last year, which led to an extended fire season through the fall.

Ducey urged the public to boost their awareness of ignition sources as they head to the mountains for camping, fishing and other activities by making sure campfires are completely out, and he urged property owners to clear a 100-foot space around buildings to give fire crews a chance to save them should a wildfire approach.

“Just this month, 100 people had to be evacuated and a state route had to be closed because of fire in the Tonto Basin,” Ducey said. “This threat is real, it is present, and we’re taking steps to reduce the risk of wildfires is our communities.”

Those steps include plans to boost fuels reduction efforts next year with $24 million included in “Healthy Forests” legislation he signed earlier this month. The program will use up to 700 state prison inmates to clear overgrown areas and reduce fire risk.

The inmate crews build on wildland fire crew programs in the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry that Ducey has touted for their success in providing job training and opportunities for inmates when they are released.

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With wildfire season looming, Arizona officials urge public to be cautious