Lackluster monsoon draws out Southwest wildfire season

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PHOENIX -- By this time of year, Arizona's monsoon normally would have brought temperatures down and moisture up significantly enough to quell any potential for significant wildfires.

Longer fire season?

Non-soon could mean longer fire season - By this time of year, Arizona's monsoon normally would have brought temperatures down and moisture up significantly enough to quell any potential for significant wildfires.

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But this isn't a normal year. Arizona and the western third of New Mexico have seen a lackluster summer rainy season, leading to warmer temperatures and keeping wildfire danger high later in the year than normal. The Phoenix area has seen only one major storm this year.

The seasonal wind shift known as the monsoon draws moisture into the region from the south and can bring blinding dust storms, strong winds and heavy rain. It officially begins June 15 and ends Sept. 30 and usually soundly snuffs out fire danger by the beginning of August.

Rich Naden is a fire weather meteorologist at the Southwest Coordination Center in Albuquerque. He said most of Arizona has seen between 15 to 75 percent of its average rainfall, with the western and Four Corners areas being among the driest.

The unusual weather has allowed the to grow to 3,500 acres. Firefighters expected to fully contain the fire by the end of the weekend.

The state had about 1,600 wildfires that burned about 265 square miles so far this year. That's compared to a five-year average of 1,800 wildfires that destroyed 357 square miles.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)