Despite heavy localized rain, risk for wildfires in Arizona continues to increase
Mar 28, 2023, 4:15 AM | Updated: 3:53 pm
(AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)
PHOENIX — A risk for wildfires in Arizona continues to increase, despite a wetter than normal winter that brought heavy rain across the state.
Chances for wildfires, the majority of which are sparked by humans, will increase as temperatures also rise throughout spring and into the summer months, state officials said during a press conference Monday highlighting Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week at the State Capitol.
A particular area of concern for state officials is southern Arizona, as the grass crop is loading heavier than usual and the monsoon forecast for the year is projected to be between normal and below normal.
“It is a concern, absolutely, and I think especially because the perception is that it’s been really wet and the risk isn’t as high, but all of that green is going to become fuel, so we need folks to be extra aware and extra cautious,” Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs said during the press conference.
For now, the focus surrounding wildfires has turned to prevention efforts with forest officials working on mitigation efforts for critical areas most at risk and resources headed toward residents to educate them on risk reduction projects and evacuation orders.
Other efforts such as being prepared with fire service partners and treating the landscape are also underway, Arizona State Forester Tom Torres said during the press conference.
“People want to be in the forested parts of the state … Part of the challenge is to educate people that fire is natural in the state and the location of our buildings and our infrastructure, that is typically not natural,” Torres said.
“And so we have development and people living and people recreating in places where fires are natural, so it’s managing those multiple challenges to keep people aware of what some of the challenges are out there.”
Of the 1,444 wildfires reported across all state land jurisdictions in 2022, 941 were human-caused, leading state officials to remind residents and visitors of simple steps that can be taken to ensure safety, according to a Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management press release.
Those steps range from never burning debris on windy days or pulling a vehicle off the road and into tall vegetation to drawing out a campfire with water and remembering that target shooting is never allowed on state trust land.
“If you live in or are visiting an area at risk of wildfires, you must be prepared in the event an evacuation is ordered,” Hobbs said.
“That means having a to-go bag ready and having an escape route planned. Always pay attention to law enforcement and fire notifications. An evacuation order means that you must leave immediately. Again, we have to do everything we can to ensure that we keep ourselves and each other safe.”