Fire season underway already in Southern Arizona

2014-02-19T00:00:00Z 2014-02-21T11:17:42Z Fire season underway already in Southern ArizonaBy Doug Kreutz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A fire-weather watch will be in effect this afternoon in the Coronado National Forest and other areas because of “contiguous areas of flammable fuels,” high temperatures, single-digit relative humidity and windy conditions, officials said.

“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly due to gusty winds and dry conditions,” said the watch issued by the National Weather Service. It’s in effect from 1 to 8 p.m. today.

Areas affected include the forest, Tucson, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties, and some other Arizona locales.

FUELS WAITING TO BURN

“Last year’s abundant monsoon resulted in a large quantity of carryover fine fuels,” said Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the Coronado Forest. The fuels are “grasses and brush which, due to a lack of winter precipitation, are dry and have cured out, leaving contiguous areas of flammable fuels which will burn if an ignition source is introduced.”

Other factors have helped prime the forest for fires, Schewel said.

“Lack of snowpack at the higher elevations leaves forested areas more vulnerable to wildfire,” she said. “Weather patterns are anticipated to be warm, dry and windy. The wind plays a major role in wildfire spread.”

Schewel urged forest visitors to be “hyperdiligent with fire, and to never leave a campfire for any reason, for any amount of time.”

FIRE SEASON UNDERWAY

The recent warm weather, dry conditions and a spate of brush fires on the outskirts of major cities of Arizona and New Mexico are prompting warnings that the 2014 wildfire season is already underway.

In Arizona desert areas, Rural/Metro Fire Department spokesman Colin Williams said, conditions are more like those typically seen in May, not February.

In fact, conditions in some places on the outskirts of the Phoenix area resemble the brush-choked area in western Yavapai County where 19 firefighters perished last year in the Yarnell Hill Fire, Williams said. “There’s a lot of fuel,” he said.

Williams said a human-caused brush fire near Saguaro Lake on the Phoenix area’s eastern outskirts on Monday was troubling.

“I was surprised about how hot it burned, how fast it moved and how intense it was,” Williams said.

The flames jumped part of the Salt River in one spot, which is flowing at a much lower level than normal, also because of the drought.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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