Fire officials brace for an early, rough fire season

Fire officials brace for an early, rough fire season

CREATED Mar 5, 2012

Reporter: Claire Doan

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – With wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hours expected for some areas of Southern Arizona Tuesday, fire officials and crews are bracing for an early and challenging season ahead.

Last summer’s Monument Fire near Sierra Vista destroyed dozens of homes and last month’s Hilton Fire charred hundreds of acres. Both blazes are stark reminders of just how bad things could get, especially with high wind gusts.

“When you bring in 50 mile per hour winds, the fire behavior changes immensely the controllability for a fire,” said Captain Adam Goldberg, spokesperson for Northwest Fire. "We’re fighting Mother Nature already and when she adds 50mph winds, she has control.”

Goldberg said gusts force crews battling wildfires to plan further ahead and evacuate farther out. The same forethought applies here in Tucson, where Rural Metro focuses on the most fire-prone areas.

“We have very intricate plans of the areas where we expect some of these fires to take place, where the homes are so we can go in and really control where we place our apparatus and what our expectations are,” said Capt. Grant Cesarek, spokesperson for Rural Metro.

Heidi Shewal, the spokesperson for Coronado National Forrest, said officials there have seen 20 fires so far this year – and anticipate a season with “higher than average” potential for large wildfires.

“There’s a buildup of fine fuels in some of the areas that didn’t burn last year – grasses and brush that are already flammable. We’re already seeing those burn. As it becomes hotter and drier, they will become even more flammable,” Shewal said, referring to areas of lower elevation.

Meanwhile, higher elevations have received much less snow than average, meaning they will dry up earlier and be more flammable as well. That’s why officials said it’s never too early to plan ahead.

“Everybody needs to be fire safe. Hold on and get ready for a bad season and an early season,” Goldberg said.

Officials recommend clearing a 30-fot defensible space around your home; removing dead plants and trees; and getting rid of any brush around the fire hydrant, which could hinder firefighter access.