Arizona Officials Prepare For Challenging Wildfire Season

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 4:03pm
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 - 11:58am
Audio icon Download mp3 (995.05 KB)
(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management Jeff Whitney says conditions are lining up for a challenging wildfire season

State fire and safety officials are sounding the alarm ahead of the upcoming fire season.

At a press conference outside the state executive tower Thursday, flanked by firefighters, Gov. Doug Ducey said it was no secret that region has had a dry winter. “This is the fourth driest start to a water year for Phoenix,” Ducey said, citing low levels of rainfall. “This is a different season that we’re approaching.”

Ducey predicted an “especially challenging” fire season meant the fire prevention fund should be doubled — from $1 million to $2 million.

“This include funds to remove hazardous vegetation and more,” Ducey said. “We’ll continue to take every step possible to prepare for this fire season to protect people, pets and property.”

Ducey implored people use caution as they enjoy the outdoors.

Jeff Whitney, director of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, said his department is responsible for approximately 30 percent of the state in terms of prevention and suppression of wildfires.

“It’s all of the unincorporated, privately owned land the 9.2 million acres of state trust land in Arizona,” he said of his jurisdiction. “With the intermingled nature of the land ownership pattern, as well as topography and different fuel types, it’s probably fire season somewhere in Arizona every day.”

But Whitney says his team has been out fighting fires ahead of the usual schedule this year. “Two weekends ago, we had three large fires across the state at all elevations,” he said. “It was early February — that is uncharacteristic.”

Whitney encouraged people to keep their yards clean and to remain vigilant through the fall. For many that means being ready for potential evacuations.

Whitney says the fuel for wildfires is in large supply due to a wet spring and summer last year.

“Last year’s summer monsoon season was very strong,” Whitney said. “We had a lot of rainfall and then we had 120 days without any measurable precipitation anywhere in the state.”

Whitney says the 2018 outlook comes on the heels of a record area of state-protected land burned in 2017.

“The climatic outlook for the next three months is quite alarming,” Whitney said. “Not only are we in a bad way, but everything that burned last year regrew.”

Whitney said the conditions are the worst he’s seen in his career in forestry.

“I’ve been doing this for 45 years — this has got us all extremely concerned,” he said.