PHOENIX — Arizona’s fire season officially ended in late September, but Arizona’s Department of Forestry recently reported to KTAR’s Jim Cross that 378,771 acres of the state were consumed by wildfires. That number is more than double than the number acres that were burned in wildfires during 2018's season.
Here are five maps to help you visualize the burn scar in our state:
Most recently reported burn areas in 2019
The Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center, a government organization associated with the Department of the Interior, maintains a database of the most recent geospatial perimeters for wildfire burn areas across the state. According to the data, Arizona has experienced a total of 91 wildfires so far in 2019. The average burn area was 3,675 acres in size. This number may not be the best representation of the true size of most of the state’s wildfires however, since it is significantly affected by the size of the Woodbury Fire, which consumed 123,500 acres of the Superstition wilderness just east of Tortilla Flat in June of this year. The burn area of Woodbury represents about 32% of the total acreage consumed by wildfires this year. The statistical median, which is taken from the middle number of all the burn areas if they were to be ordered from smallest to largest, is only 286 acres. The map below shows an overlay of where the fires occurred in 2019.
Fire perimeters over metro Phoenix in 2019
To give a better perspective of what the total burn area around the state looks like in 2019, all the fire perimeter boundaries have been relocated on top of metro Phoenix. The Woodbury Fire alone would have swallowed the Downtown core and the Encanto area. The borders extend all the way from the Loop 303 in the west to Gilbert Road in the east, and from Ahwatukee in the south to the Loop 101 in the north.
Fire perimeters over metro Phoenix from 2011
Arizona’s worst fire season on record occurred in 2011. That year, the Wallow Fire raged through the White Mountains, eating through 522,642 acres of Arizona and 15,407 acres of New Mexico. In the southern half of the state, the Horseshoe 2 Fire burned 222,954 acres. The burn area of the Wallow Fire alone was larger than the last two years combined. In total, more than 1.04 million acres were burned in Arizona that year. Using the same technique that was used to move the 2019 boundaries over metro Phoenix, it becomes clear how sizable the 2011 burn area really was.
“No gaps” circular boundaries of the 2011 and 2019 fire seasons
Maricopa County’s urban and suburban zip codes encompass about 1.4 million acres. If the total number of acres from all of Arizona’s 91 wildfires from this year were combined, they would burn approximately one quarter of the Phoenix metro. In contrast, 2011 would have burned around 80% of the developed land area of the county.
Arizona’s 2019 fire season as viewed from space
The Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) utilizes NASA’s imaging and infrared satellites to provide a detailed and near real-time access to active fire locations across the globe. The data from hotspots detected by these satellite networks can be visualized over time to provide a sense of when fire activity is highest in Arizona. MODIS, NASA’s optical satellite, has detected 2,672 hotspots so far this year, with most of those detections occurring in June, during the course of the Woodbury Fire.