The effects of Arizona’s prolonged wildfire season

The monsoon has barely made a dent in Arizona's wildfire season so far as conditions are mostly dry.
Published: Aug. 2, 2023 at 8:56 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A lot of places in Arizona recently got a tease of the monsoon. But the reality is storms have been few and far between this summer. Typically, wildfire season is winding down for most of the state. But because it’s been so dry, it’s still very much in full swing as we head into August. “Everything’s very dry,” Rural Metro Fire Chief Tim Soule said.

As a result, Soule and his crews have been busy all summer long. “With the wet winter, it provided a lot of moisture for the finer-type fuels to grow,” he said. “So there’s a lot of fuel out there.”

A lot of fuel, and according to Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s John Truett, not enough bodies to deal with it. “It’s really stretching our resources thin,” Truett said. “Usually, we’re out of fire season by now.”

Truett says out-of-state crews that usually help with fires like the Grapevine Fire are now leaving to deal with the start of fire seasons in their states. “I would say 30% less capabilities now than we’ve had in the past,” he said. “They’re starting to draw some of those federal resources away from us like the air tankers and things like that. We don’t have those on hand any longer.”

The Bureau of Land Management says about 90% of wildfires are caused by humans, and they're talking to people about how they can prevent future fires.

As a result, the Department of Forestry and Fire Management has had to start prioritizing which fires get the most resources. Truett says fires close to communities and important structures like power lines come first. But that’s meant some fires in more remote areas might be left unattended for days, prolonging the overall containment process. “A lot more logistical support, a lot more exposure to our firefighters in this environment,” Truett said. “When it’s 115 degrees out there, it takes us almost double the resources to take care of some of these fires.”

And with hot, dry temperatures expected the next couple of weeks, both Truett and Soule expect the strain on resources to continue for the foreseeable future. “Until we get that solid, continuous cover of moisture, we’re going to be in fire season,” Truett said.

“The longer a season is delayed into the fall, the greater the staffing challenges exist,” Soule added. Truett says on both a state and federal level there is a need for firefighters. To learn more information about potentially becoming one, you can visit the Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s website.

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