Heidi Schewel would like to add a new clause to your morning affirmations: “What can I do to not start a fire today?”
Schewel, spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest, said Tuesday that the drought-stressed vegetation of the Coronado’s Sky Island districts in Southern Arizona is ready to burn and the best way to prevent a catastrophic fire season is keep fires from starting.
The U.S. Forest Service has already battled 14 fires in the Coronado this year and peak fire season is still a month away.
Throughout Southeastern Arizona, various agencies have responded to 100 wildfires this year, said Kristy Lund, fire management officer for Saguaro National Park and the Catalina Ranger District of the Coronado.
Many of the blazes were brush fires along major highways, such as Interstate 10 and Interstate 19, Lund said.
This time of year, almost all fires are human-caused, although two of this year’s fires in the Coronado were caused by lightning.
In addition to continuing drought conditions, public lands in Southern Arizona host continuous patches of grass that sprouted during the summer monsoon rains and dried out or “cured” during the warm, dry winter, said Schewel.
Those same conditions existed last year and the fire season in Southern Arizona was well below average. The key is the ignition source, she said, which is controllable.
This week is Southwest Fire Awareness Week and fire officials are reminding the public of steps to prevent them.
“Never, ever leave a campfire unattended,” said Schewel, and make sure it is cold to the touch when you are done.
Michelle Fidler, of the National Park Service, said motorists need to be vigilant about dragging tow chains, parking on dried grass, operating small engines, smoking and using fireworks, which are always prohibited in national parks and forests.
Residents of communities that border heavily vegetated public lands especially “need to be responsible to not start that next fire,” said Lund.
Fires can start from ricocheting bullets and rocks being struck by lawnmower blades or even a horse’s hoof.
There are no restrictions on public land use, but that could change as the temperature rises and we approach the prime fire months of May and June.