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Another challenge for Arizona wildfire season 2022: getting more wildland firefighters

Posted at 4:09 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 21:57:59-04

Another challenge this year to fighting wildfires in Arizona will be having enough wildland firefighters to fight them.

Governor Doug Ducey held his annual wildfire outlook for the year, where fire officials say we can expect another extreme wildfire season.

“Temperatures are creeping back up – and that means Arizona faces a heightened risk of wildfires,” said Governor Ducey. “At the state level, we’re going to do all we can to protect Arizonans and try to mitigate any lasting damage to our communities.”

Last year, there were more than 1,760 wildfires across Arizona burning more than 520,000 acres — which was down from 2020 with one million acres burned.

“Last summer’s monsoon season was one of the most active in a long time,” said John Truett, state fire management officer. “However, that rainfall created an abundance of grass throughout southern Arizona, even in areas like Globe, which experienced significant fire activity last year. Now as our temperatures begin to warm up, that grass crop is quickly drying out and any ignition source into that fuel bed can start a fast-moving wildfire.”

The starting pay for wildland firefighters in Arizona is $16 an hour, and federal agencies boosted the pay to $15 an hour as part of the President’sinfrastructure bill.

“The amount of resources that are needed now to combat the wildland fire we just don't have enough folks that are willing to come out and do the job that we do,” said Truett.

ABC15 asked Truett how many vacancies there are but he did not have an exact number.

“When I get on the western calls, every western state has severe to moderate staffing shortages due to whatever reasons are out there," Truett said.

Governor Ducey was asked about firefighter pay and if it needs to rise, “We need more wildland firefighters, that's a fact, the situation calls for it and pay is going to be part of it.“

When the governor was asked to clarify if pay would go up he said, “We’re going to work with the dollars that we have right now, and were going to address the need for this season.”

The governor’s office sent out ways that residents and visitors can do their part by taking personal responsibility to help prevent wildfires:

  • Create defensible space around your home, especially if you live in the Wildland Urban Interface.
  • Recreate responsibly. Make sure campfires are always out and cool to the touch before leaving the campsite.
  • Secure tow chains and check to make sure your vehicle and tires are in good working order before getting on the road.
  • Check the weather. Have a shovel and water source nearby before doing any outdoor activity that involves fire. Avoid burning or using any type of equipment that may spark on windy days.
  • Remember target shooting and fireworks are prohibited on State Trust Land.