Battling wildfires

A Type 1 Colombia CH47D helicopter carries a water bucket that holds up to 2,800 gallons. It was used to help battle the Woodbury fire this summer. (Photo by Anton L. Delgado/News21)

PHOENIX — Arizonans this year are dealing with fewer wildfires than last year, but the fires are significantly larger, according to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

“From January 1st to July 10th, we’ve had 935 wildfires – that equates to 205,819 acres burned,” said Tiffany Davila, a spokesperson with the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

In the same time frame from 2018, she said, there were more than 1,200 wildfires, but with only 85,000 acres burned – less than half the 2019 number. A key difference is the response of wildfire managers to a pessimistic fire outlook in 2018.

This year’s long Fourth of July weekend didn’t help either. In the span of four days, Davila said there were 46 wildfires that consumed nearly 4,000 acres As of Wednesday morning, 11 wildfires had burned a combined total of 4 acres in the previous 24 hours.

“Last year, we were in a significant drought across the state,” Davila said. “We implemented fire restrictions early, we put closures in place early on – we hadn’t had closures on state lands in about 10 years. So we took proactive measures to reduce that impact to our communities because we were in such severe drought.”

The rains ultimately came in the winter of 2018, bringing relief to a long drought but they also caused plants and trees to really grow.

“We received an ample amount of moisture this past winter, which in turn created an overgrowth of fuels in the desert area … now we have an abundance of grasses,” Davila said.

Ultimately, an overwhelming majority of wildfires are caused by people: fireworks, welding sparks and illegal trash burning are common culprits. But for those interested in making a difference, steps can be taken to reduce the threat of fire.

“We understand a lot of the human caused fires are accidents,” Davila said. “But we all need to be careful and there’s things that we can do to take those proactive measures to ensure that we help decrease fire activity across the state.”


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