Valley firefighters to construction crews: ‘Please stop starting brush fires’

May 13, 2024, 11:00 AM

Split panel image of a firefighter at the scene of a Scottsdale brush fire on the left and a constr...

With the 2024 wildfire season underway, Phoenix-area fire officials are worried about brush fires starting at construction sites. (Scottsdale Fire Department and Pexels Photos)

(Scottsdale Fire Department and Pexels Photos)

PHOENIX — With the 2024 wildfire season underway, Phoenix-area firefighters are asking construction crews to take extra care to avoid sparking brush fires in dry desert areas.

The plea comes after firefighters stopped a fast-moving brush fire that started at a construction site near McDowell Mountain Regional Park in northeast Scottsdale over the weekend.

“We were lucky, and we were lucky last year,” Scottsdale Fire Chief Tom Shannon told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Monday. “Every year, we put up brush patrols and our folks are at heightened alert and awareness for these types of fires. But we really do need to help citizens and construction workers and developers to really think this through before the season gets really going.”

How do construction brush fires start?

Shannon said the risk for construction brush fires is especially high in what’s know as the Wildland Urban Interface, the areas where homebuilders expand into open space beyond existing development.

He said construction work such as grinding and welding starts more than 100 brush fires each year.

“Just a small spark in these very, very dry fuels can really start what can ultimately be a significant fire,” he said.

Shannon said the Valley’s wildfire season seems to start earlier and end later each year.

“The fuels that we’re seeing are so brittle,” he said. “They’re ladder fuels, they’re contributory to the larger fires that we all see on the news. It could be a simple chain dragging, and certainly the carelessness of a cigarette butt out the window.”

What can be done to prevent brush fires?

The Scottsdale Fire Department released a checklist of safety tips on social media Saturday in a post that reads: “Dear Construction workers, ‘Please stop starting brush fires in our desert.'”

The list includes the following guidelines:

  • Make sure vehicles don’t block fire hydrants or emergency access at construction sites.
  • Clear flammable materials such as dried grasses and weeds within 20-30 feet of buildings and maintain the clear zones.
  • Clear flash fuels within 10-15 feet of driveways.
  • Don’t allow excessive combustible materials at construction sites.
  • Restrict smoking at construction sites.
  • Limit welding and metal cutting to cleared areas.
  • Employ spotters to watch for fires during potentially risky operations.
  • Make sure construction sites have working fire extinguishers and/or connected water hose lines.

If a fire does start, firefighters should be notified immediately.

“We want to be coming as soon as there’s a problem. … Don’t delay calling 911, get us on our way,” Shannon said. “And then if you can, safely try to apply water with whatever source you have. But the key thing is a get us coming.”

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Valley firefighters to construction crews: ‘Please stop starting brush fires’