Experts predict above-average wildfire activity for April after wet winter

Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 6:34 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - A wet winter full of rain and snowfall brought new life and vegetation growth to the desert. But as the state begins to dry out, all of that growth could actually mean a more intense wildfire season can be expected.

As temperatures start to warm up like they did Sunday, April 9, all of the new, green vegetation is going to dry out. So when a fire does spark, it could quickly spread because of all the fuel it will have to burn.

“It’s likely to create some challenges for us because there is a tremendous fuel loading out there now,” said Steven Miranda, forest fire management officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

From Monsoon 2021, 2022 and the wet winter we saw this year, Miranda says the fuel has been building up for a while. In addition to that, this March was the first March with above-average rainfall at the airport since 2004, according to the National Weather Service. The snowfall is expected to delay fire season in some parts of the state.

“In areas where we get snow, a lot of that grass has been compacted from the snow and so that will reduce the fire threat a little bit,” explained Molly Hunter, associate research professor at the University of Arizona.

But the wet winter was a catch-22. Experts expect the fire season to pick up soon and possibly be more intense.

“It’s going to elevate here in April,” Miranda said. “We could see an above-average month for the month of April and then it kind of tapering off as we get into May and June and be more of an average fire season.”

The Forest Service has been ramping up its fire mitigation efforts to prepare. A big part of that is prescribed burns. Some of the most recent burns were in Nogales and Sierra Vista.

″On all of our five ranger districts, we have conducted some prescribed burning and other fuels treatments like thinning and grubbing to help mitigate that fire intensity and the challenges over the fire season,” Miranda said.

But when fire danger is high, a fire can spark anywhere, including your own backyard.

“Most of our fires are started by people. So just being really intentional about your use of equipment, chains on vehicles, things like that, those are common ways that fires can start,” Hunter said.

There are things you can do to help prevent the spread of a fire. For example, if you’re camping, use a fire pit or fire ring if you plan to make a fire, keep the fire at least 10 feet away from any brush, and before you leave make sure your fire is completely out.

You can find more information and tips here.