This summer’s temperatures, low humidity and many windy days put this region’s already high fire danger at a peak.
Last year, firefighters predicted a bad fire season and the predictions came true. In 2011, the Wallow fire became the largest wildfire in Arizona’s history, burning more than 538,000 acres
Adam Goldberg, spokesman for Northwest Fire District, said this year’s predictions are the same, if not worse.
Already in 2012, more than 42,780 acres have burned in Arizona. The Sunflower wildfire burning in the Tonto National Forest, just 20 miles south of the town of Payson, has burned more than 16,000 acres since May 12.
“People need to be mindful of fire safety behaviors,” Goldberg said.
According to Goldberg, the two biggest causes of local brush fires are children playing with lighters and matches, and the improper disposal of cigarettes.
In order to prevent these kinds of brush fires, Goldberg said to remove children’s access to lighters, and remind them about the fire hazards.
Officials warn is vital for people to dispose of cigarettes properly, and not to throw them out of a car window.
It is also important to protect homes during fire season. Small local brush fires can easily spread to homes if a defensible space has not been created.
In order to create a defensible space around a home, fire officials recommend residents reduce fuel within 30 feet of the structure, remove debris, dead tree limbs and grasses and move winter fireplace wood away from the house.
On May 6, statewide fire restrictions were put in place for public lands in six Arizona counties.
By the end of May, State Forester Scott Hunt announced that the Forestry Division would be expanding fire restrictions to include state lands in all 15 counties. As of May 18, campfires and charcoal-burning devices were prohibited. Smoking remains limited to enclosed vehicles and buildings or areas cleared of all flammable material. All fireworks are prohibited on state lands.
The restrictions will remain in effect until further notice, though most of the 27 State Parks remain open to the public for recreational use.
“Prevention comes down to safety behaviors and common sense,” Goldberg said.
Besides obeying current restrictions, fire officials warn motorists to be mindful of where they park, and to avoid parking where vegetation is touching the underside of a vehicle.
Summertime is also barbeque season, and it is important to use caution when using propane tanks.
Goldberg recommended testing the tanks before use. Soapy water is a good way to find leaks, he said. If there is a leak, the mixture will bubble.
At the federal level, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, R-District 1, introduced the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2012 to address problems caused by catastrophic wildfire.
“Poor management by federal land agencies has devastated our renewable natural resources,” said Andy Groseta, president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association. “It is now time for rural Arizona to preserve our working landscapes.”
The federal legislation would require the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to expedite forest management projects relating to hazardous fuel reduction, forest health and economic development in order to reduce the risk of damage to national forests and public lands by wildfire.
The bill would enable the use of existing regulations to speed up projects that would protect national forests.
“We have got to find a better way to productively manage our federal lands for the benefit of local economies,” said Roxanne Knight, rancher and business owner in Springerville, “Gosar has drafted legislation that makes sense and hopefully starts the ball rolling on real forest projects.”
To check on fire restrictions before planning a trip, visit the state website at http://publiclands.org/firenews/AZ.php#contentEEuFluklVEBVzCzgCV, or call the hotline toll-free at 1-877-864-6985.