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AZ officials prepare for active wildfire season

A Greer Fire District firefighter assesses damage from the Wallow Fire in this June 8 photo from Butler Canyon. (Photo by Kari Greer/U.S. Forest Service)

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says low rainfall, high temperatures and wind will make the coming months ripe for damaging wildfires.

The governor said Wednesday this year’s below-average snowfall has increased the potential for large blazes in the state’s higher elevations.

“As our days grow warmer, that snow is rapidly melting,” Brewer said. “Fire danger is very much on the rise in our state.”

Authorities say the southeastern Arizona landscape with its high grass also could be a problem.

Brewer spoke outside a state emergency management center in Phoenix, where she signed a state forestry request for resources. She said the request will allow the state to position extra firefighting resources including tankers, tactical aircraft and a dozen inmate crews.

“This will help ensure our firefighters have the resources they need to respond at a moment’s notice so that they can contain small fires before they grow into monsters,” Brewer said.

However, weather specialists predict this season will see fewer “red flag” days, where winds are high and humidity is low. Winds above 20 mph can speed up the spreading of a wildfire.

“This last summer they were much, much higher than normal,” Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt said.

Officials say Arizona wildfires burned through more than 1 million acres last year and nearly 8,000 acres this year. Many of the fires have been human-caused.

“While outside this spring and summer enjoying the outdoors, I ask that Arizonans please take warnings to heart,” Brewer said. “Observe all local, federal and state restrictions.”

The onset of wildfire season also brings the use of controlled burns. Intentionally set, controlled buns consume forest fuels that could pose a wildfire risk. Last month, a prescribed burn in Colorado turned into a wildfire that killed three people.

Hunt said in Arizona, there is an extensive planning process before any match is put to the ground. Organizers make sure there’s a communication plan in place with relevant fire crews at all levels.

“If something does — God forbid — escape lines, they already have that. They know what radio frequency we’re on. It’s pretty well-oiled,” Hunt said.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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