Wildfire season could heat up fast, early in AZ

Posted at 10:57 PM, Apr 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-08 01:59:05-04

The Forest Service is already planning ahead for what's shaping up to be a very busy and likely early wildfire season in Arizona.

Fire officials with the Tonto National Forest say this week they started looking at wildfire maps and doing the math on how much manpower they may need this year.

Despite all that rain that washed the Valley from fall into winter, Deputy Fire Staff Officer Helen Graham says all it really did was help grass and brush grow thick.

"That’s what causes a fire to spread and grow quickly," said Graham.

She says even though the high country saw a few snow days, overall el Niño was a letdown not leaving nearly enough of a snow pack to help keep moisture in the trees which are already thirsty thanks to a long-term 16-year drought. She says the most recent field tests show moisture is around 12% when it should be closer to 20%.

Experience tells Deputy Graham we're in for a doozy this year.

"Expect more incidents, more fires with an early spring start in the low country with potential to expand rapidly and if we stay hot and dry going in to summer than a moderate chance in the high country," she said.

She says this is a very early prediction a few variables could change but it’s not likely we’ll see enough rain to make a big difference in the big picture.

A more solid outlook is expected at the end of April.