Officials concerned about severity of 2011 fire season

Posted: Updated:

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Wildfire season has begun and a lack of rain could play a major role in how this year's fire season may turn out.

Wildfires are an all-too familiar foe for many people in Southern Arizona.  Memories of the 2003 Aspen Fire that destroyed most of Summerhaven remain fresh.

But we could see a repeat this year.

"We use a number of tools to predict what wildfire season is going to look like each year in southeastern Arizona there is above average above average potential for significant fire activity," said Heidi Schewel from the U.S. Forest Service.

Activity that could lead to wildfires similar to one in Silver City, New Mexico.  A fire that has spread across more than 1700 acres.

"We could see some large fires this predict to be March through June, we are in fire season now mainly in the lower to mid elevations," said Schewel.

Forest service officials point to a lack of rain this Winter as a major reason why this wildfire season is predicted to be above normal.

"We didn't get our Winter precipitation there's a lot of abundance fine fuel such as grasses, they didn't really get beat down by precipitation this Winter," said Schewel.

And the growth left over from last year is another concern.

"There's a lot of fuel that standing tall, its drying out, its ready to burn, all it takes is an ignition source," said Schewel.

To keep 2011 from becoming a repeat of 2003 the forest service wants homeowners and campers to know they each have a first priority:

"We need to keep a distance clear around your home of flammable fuel, whatever you do, do not leave your fire until its cool to the touch," said Schewel.

And Tucson Fire and Tucson Water finished up the controlled burn in the Sweetwater wetlands canceled Monday due to high winds.