Southeastern Arizona 'ready to burn' after dry winter, state forester warns

2013-05-03T00:00:00Z Southeastern Arizona 'ready to burn' after dry winter, state forester warnsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX - High winds and low humidity are creating a danger for the upcoming fire season, especially for Southeastern Arizona, the state forester said Thursday.

"We had a drier than normal winter," Scott Hunt said at a briefing. "Most of our fuels are ready to burn now."

So far, he said, there is not a particular problem at the higher elevations. "There's still a little moisture," he said. "But with these wind events, it's drying rapidly."

Some areas of concern are obvious, like the Mogollon Rim and other heavily wooded areas. But there are some new spots Hunt's agency is watching.

A year ago, after a pretty dry winter, there wasn't a lot of grass growth in the Sonoran Desert.

"We didn't have much precipitation this year," Hunt said. "But it was timed just right," causing unusually heavy grass growth around Phoenix.

And then there's Southeastern Arizona. "We've been going to fires daily down there," and that grass crop is a problem, Hunt said. The higher the elevation, particularly over 3,500 feet, the worse the problem. That pretty much includes a stretch from the eastern edge of Tucson all the way through Cochise County.

The lack of rain is only part of the problem.

"The National Weather Service is telling us there may be episodes of high winds," Hunt said.

These conditions make it important for people to take care in how they handle matches and cigarettes. "On a windy day, on a dry grass bed, if I was to drop a match and start a fire, we could have a fire that's burned a square mile, 640 acres, in about 15 minutes," he said.

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