PHOENIX — Arizona communities on the frontline of the wildfires burning across the state told members of a joint House-Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Energy, and Water it is all hands on deck.
The Committee considered a bill that provides $100 million to provide resources to fire crews battling the fires, help communities affected by the fires now, and allow them to prepare for the floods and landslides that will occur later during the monsoon season and provide funding to help clean up our forests.
“It’s dryer, it’s hotter and worse than what we have ever seen,” said David Tenney, Director of the Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
Arizona is burning up. Last year nearly a million acres were lost to fire. This year 300,000 acres have burned so far, which is a 60,000-acre increase from the same time in 2020.
Tenney and other state officials gave lawmakers a grave assessment of the eight major wildfires currently burning in Arizona.
Tenney said at certain times of the day it’s too hot for slurry aircraft to take off. With humidity levels hovering near 0%, fires are moving quickly and burning more. Water levels are so low at San Carlos Lake, helicopters can’t scoop water out to use fighting the Telegraph Fire in Gila County.
Cash-strapped communities need the money now. Pinal County Grants Administrator Tami Ryall told the committee it can’t count on federal dollars to arrive on time to deal with the flooding the county expects to see from the Telegraph Fire.
“Our biggest concern is timing, you can probably detect the panic in our voice,” Ryall said. “We’re afraid other sources of money will not be fast enough. The clock is ticking. We have about three weeks.”
Arizona is in the midst of a 20-year drought.
The $100 million is viewed by many as a proactive approach to deal with the fires today, and begin work on mitigating their effects later. But Democrats think more consideration should be given to dealing with the state’s increasing temperatures and declining water supply.
“Arizona is burning at a faster rate than before. It’s getting hotter faster. But it seems we are more interested in doing what we’re doing instead of addressing the actual problems,” said State Senator Juan Mendez (D) Tempe-District 26.
Mendez was the lone no vote in the committee. The bill now heads to both the House and Senate, where it is expected to pass on Thursday.
“Help is on the way,” said House Committee Chairwoman Gail Griffin from Southeastern Arizona.
“We are doing what we need to do,” Senate Committee Chairwoman Sine Kerr added.
The governor is expected to sign the bill once he receives it. The money should be available almost immediately.