Arizona fire season already in high gear due to humans, weather

Arizona’s wildfire season is already in high gear, thanks in large part to human carelessness but also weather conditions last winter that produced an abundance of vegetation now serving as fire fuel.

At least two new wildfires were reported in mountains on Tucson’s northwestern outskirts after a thunderstorm passed through the area Friday night. Officials said Saturday no structures were reported threatened.

A 980-acre (4-square-kilometer) human-caused fire destroyed eight homes in Cave Creek on May 30 and forced hundreds of evacuations before it was fully contained Tuesday. It was the second fire in Cave Creek in two weeks.

Elsewhere, a lightning-caused fire burning in the Superstition Mountains east of metro Phoenix forced evacuation of a handful of residents who later were allowed to return to their homes. That fire had burned nearly 25,000 acres (101 square kilometers) and was contained around 57% of its perimeter as of Saturday with nearly 400 firefighters and other personnel assigned to it.

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A carpet of brush and weeds created by heavy winter rainfall has turned into fire fuel across the desert, said Brad Pitassi, assistant chief of Maricopa Fire and Medical and a spokesman for the multi-agency team that took over the fire in the Superstition Mountains on Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” he said.

Lightning-caused fires accounted for about 55,000 acres (223 square kilometers) of the Arizona fires reported by midweek but of the 771 wildfires this year, 741 were human caused.

Abandoned campfires, unsecured tow chains and target shooting were responsible for many of the fires, said Tiffany Davila, spokeswoman for Arizona Forestry and Fire Management.

Residents need to clear at least 30 feet (9 meters) of defensible space around homes and property, said Paul Schickel, spokesman for Daisy Mountain Fire and Medical.

That department serves a largely rural but increasingly developed area on the northern outskirts of metro Phoenix.

Residents should also trim low-hanging branches to at least 6 feet (2 meters) off the ground so the fire can’t leap from the ground into trees and then onto homes, Schickel said.

“We’re really trying to get people to understand how dry these fuels are and how quickly these fires spread,” he said.

Fire season won’t end until the heavy monsoon rainfall arrives.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, says fire danger in Arizona will be higher than average through July.