Arizona 2017 wildfire outlook: Danger greater at lower elevations

Posted at 6:05 PM, Apr 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-12 07:45:11-04

A wet spring that led to a brisk growing season means a greater risk of wildfire in Arizona's southern deserts and grasslands as they dry out, leaving the state with mixed anticipation for the upcoming fire season, the state forester said Tuesday.

Officials say the amount of rain and snow this spring has reduced concerns about potential wildfires in the ponderosa pine and other forests at upper elevations. But officials expect a very busy fire season in the deserts and grasslands of southern Arizona because rains led to an excess of fire fuels in those areas.

Gov. Doug Ducey joined forest and fire officials at the state Capitol to offer their annual outlook on the upcoming wildfire season.

Ducey said wildfires are an inescapable part of Arizona's ecosystem, and noted the state's combination of hot, dry weather and overgrown forests creates perfect conditions for the blazes to start. The governor said he's confident Arizona's forest managers and fire officials are prepared for the upcoming wildfire season.

"But sufficient manpower and coordination across local and federal agencies are only part of the puzzle when it comes to preventing fires," Ducey said. "It remains a stubborn fact that a majority of fires across Arizona are human caused ... we must all commit to playing a role in fire prevention by taking it personally."

State Forester Jeff Whitney said while Arizona is seeing about the same number of fires as 2016, the fires this year are growing larger and faster.

RELATED: Past, present and future look at Arizona's wildfires

"We've already seen some dramatic fire behavior and larger footprint fires in southern Arizona than we typically would expect to see by this time," Whitney said.

He said the dry fire season last year left officials very concerned with conditions in the Mogollon Rim and the Colorado Plateau, likening them to the conditions before the Rodeo-Chedeski and the Wallow fires, which were the two biggest wildfires to ravage the state.

Whitney said the state should be thinning around 50,000 forest acres a year but estimated only about 20,000 are being thinned.