Scott Hunt discusses 2013 fire season

State Forester Scott Hunt discusses preparations Thursday for the upcoming fire seasons. Hunt, appearing with Gov. Jan Brewer, said he expects high winds, though not as bad as in 2011 when the Wallow Fire burned 538,000 acres in eastern Arizona.

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

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

"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 of the areas of concern are obvious, like the Mogollon Rim and other heavily wooded areas. But Hunt said there's some new spots his 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.''

The result, he said, is unusually heavy grass growth around the Phoenix urban area.

And then there's southeast Arizona.

"We've been going to fires daily down there,'' Hunt said, with that grass crop being a problem. And the higher the elevation, he said, 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.

The good news, he said, is the prediction is that those winds won't be as severe as 2011.

That's when the Wallow Fire devoured 538,000 acres in eastern Arizona and the smaller Monument Fire in the Coronado National Forest. That year, Hunt said, the state has 28 "red flag'' days when winds and extreme dryness made for tinderbox conditions.

Hunt said that these conditions make it particularly important for people to take special care in how they handle matches and cigarettes.

"On a windy day like this, 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.

Hunt said it's only through the work of fire crews that there are not more major conflagrations.

"We hear about the large fires,'' he said.

"But there's a lot of little fires that these folks keep little,'' Hunt continued. "As a matter of fact, a majority of our fires are kept at 10 acres and under.

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