A new wildfire season is here and it’s early. That means it could be another record-breaking summer due to excessive drought, fire officials warn.
Arizona is already experiencing record-shattering dry conditions due to the drought, which has dragged on for more than two decades. Currently, the U.S. Drought Monitor is designating most of Arizona under the two highest categories, “extreme” and “exceptional” drought.
Windy conditions make fires more likely to spark. Public officials, fire agencies and private organizations are taking steps to prevent disasters and calling on everyone to be extra cautious this year.
“To help prevent wildfires, it is important that Arizonans enjoy our beautiful outdoors responsibly,” Gov. Doug Ducey said. “There are many common sense precautions we can all take to minimize fire risk, including making sure campfires are out cold before walking away. My sincere thanks to the firefighters, safety officials and everyone working to protect lives, pets and property this season.”
A typical fire season runs from May to July. This year, the season started in March with the Punkin Fire northwest of Roosevelt Lake where about 350 acres burned. So far this year, Arizona fire crews have battled around 100 wildfires.
As of Tuesday, there were more than 40 fires across the state including 11 active fires involving more than 1,000 acres, according to the tracking website, the Fire, Weather and Avalanche Center.
State and feds investing in resources to help
State and federal officials have been preparing for an intense fire season.
In Arizona, Gov. Ducey successfully pushed for $24 million to increase workforce and partnerships through the Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative, initiating new funding for programs and public-private partnerships to clean up hazardous fuels, thin out forests and attract forest industries to the state.
More inmates trained to fight wildfires
Part of the initiative is funding to expand a program to train and deploy low-risk inmates to fight wildfires, learn job skills in the process, and transition to work upon release. This year, about 700 inmates can participate in the program.
Arizona’s congressional members push for more firefighters
Arizona’s U.S. congressional delegation members have also pushed for legislation to fund wildfire assistance, including funding from federal pandemic recovery packages.
Arizona U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, for example, worked to get the Government Accountability Office to assess the hiring and retention of federal wildland firefighters for effective fire management and issue recommendations to strengthen Arizona’s federal firefighting force.
“Wildfires in Arizona and across the west are a near-constant threat,” Sinema said. “I am glad the federal government listened to our calls to take common sense steps to better protect Arizona communities from dangerous wildfires.”
Forest mechanical thinning industries wanted
To address the huge need for forest thinning industries in Arizona, a unique public-private partnership, known as 4FRI (the Four Forest Restoration Initiative), whose ultimate goal is working to achieve an ultimate goal of thinning 2.4 million acres of forest land. 4FRI is a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, other public agencies and private and non-profit organizations.
As part of the project, the U.S. Forest Service is soliciting bids for one of the largest forest thinning initiatives ever issued. To attract bidders, the RFP is the first 20-year contract in the agency’s history.
It calls for awarding contracts to companies to mechanically thin 605,000 to 818,000 acres of forests in Northern Arizona. The RFP is available to both small and large businesses and seeks proposals that are “sustainable, innovative, feasible, and cost-effective to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration.”
The Forest Service plans to spend $550 million over the next 20 years to work in four national forests: Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto. Business and industry will play a key role in this effort by harvesting, processing, and selling wood products.
Humans are first line of defense
Most fires are caused by human activity. State leaders and fire officials are encouraging citizens to be more aware this summer. Here some tools:
–A free fire info app that offers citizens access to real-time wildfire information. They can also send in tips and sign up for alerts. Download the app from iTunes or Google Play by searching for: Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
–Current fire restriction websites Currently, all 13 counties in Arizona are under fire restrictions. For a listing, visit: Arizona Fire Restrictions
Simple tips to practice:
- Always extinguish campfires
- Dispose of cigarettes and matches properly
- Never drag chains on the roadway
- Never fly drones in or around an active wildfire area