Brief rain doesn’t alleviate potential risk from wildfires
Written by Christopher Fox Graham
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 11:09
The brief rainstorm late May 7, brought about 0.1 inches of rain to the Verde Valley. While May 7’s rain — and the rain and snow flurry on April 26 — were refreshing breaks from the otherwise dry spring, the fact remains that 2014 is shaping up to be a dry year.
By Memorial Day weekend at the end of the month, the average rainfall the Verde Valley receives drops to negligible numbers as we enter full-blown fire seasons.
Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt Heavy said in April that light snowpack this winter and heavy monsoon rains late last year will make for a more dangerous fire season.
The National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services report issued May 1 predicts that Northern, Central and Southeastern Arizona will see significantly larger wildfires, although slightly less likely than normal, i.e., fewer but bigger fires. In June, the increased fire risk spreads through most of the western United States before slightly diminishing in August just as the monsoon hits full swing.
Last year’s fire season was particularly devastating to Arizona. Just as the Doce Fire west-northwest of Prescott was dying down, fire crews were called to the Yarnell Hill Fire near the town of Yarnell west of Interstate 17.
After three days of rough wildland firefighting, the 20-member Granite Mountain Hotshot crew from Prescott got caught in a valley as the fire swept their position. Only one man from the crew survived, a 21-year-old lookout rescued by another Hotshot crew from Blue Ridge.
The deaths of 19 firefighters was the greatest loss of life for firefighters in a wildfire since the Griffith Park Fire of 1933 and the largest loss of firefighters since 9/11.
Wildfires can strike anywhere. A cigarette butt, poorly extinguished campfire, lightning strike, machinery spark from equipment, a careless kid with matches and loose chain striking asphalt beneath a trailer have caused wildfires in the Verde Valley over the last few years. In 2014, any one of those causes could result in a major fire our valley has been free from since the Brins and La Barranca fires of 2006.
- Contact your local fire district and ask for an inspection of your home and property for tips on creating defensible space.
- If you see smoke in the wilderness while hiking or recreating, call 911. Catching a tiny fire early prevents it from growing into something major. A four-acre fire in Prescott was quickly stopped this weekend.
- Obey all fire restrictions. Nearly every fire organization and state land agency operating in Northern Arizona has implemented strict fire restrictions, and they did so far earlier than normal this year. If you see someone on public land with a campfire or smoking, gently inform them about the fire risk and ask them to extinguish their fire or cigarette.
- Prepare an emergency kit and make sure irreplaceable mementos like photo albums and birth certificates can be grabbed in case you are evacuated from your home.
- Be aware of Red Flag warnings — notices issued by the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies warning residents of increased fire risk due to high winds. As we receive them, we will post these warnings on our website, journalaz.com.