Arizona

Sep 16, 2013 4:39 PM by Associated Press

Wildfire outlook still grim after monsoon ends fire season

PHOENIX (AP) - The long-term wildfire threat remains grim in Arizona even after a strong array of monsoon storms that doused fires and shortened this year's season.

Forest and weather experts say it'll take a wet winter with heavy snow to turn around the wildfire risk by putting significant moisture into the ground. Monsoon rain tends to run off, particularly in areas previously burned.

"We're still in a 10- to 15-year-long drought pattern. We have been fortunate in the past few months to get a good monsoon," said Rich Naden, a Forest Service fire meteorologist in Albuquerque, N.M.

Wildfires burned nearly 100,000 acres across the state through late August during a season that included the June 30 deaths of 19 firefighters during the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The acreage was the lowest in more than a decade, The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/196DzM8 ) reported.

In contrast, 216,235 acres burned in 2012 and 1,006,577 acres burned in 2011, with the 538,000-acre Wallow Fire accounting for more than half of the 2011 total.

However, Wally Covington, regents professor of forest ecology at Northern Arizona University, said more than 3 million acres of pine forest are in danger of burning as drought conditions continue and need treatment.

"The fuels are still accumulating, and the meteorological forecast is grim," Covington said.

Naden said Arizona was in a cooler, wetter pattern from 1977 until 1998,

"We have probably a decade of the long-term weather pattern being dry," Naden said. "We are going to be drier than normal and we have a continued potential toward these catastrophic fires."

Much of this year's fire activity took place in Yavapai County. The human-caused Doce Fire burned more than 6,700 acres in the Granite Mountain area near Prescott in June and the lightning-caused Yarnell Hill Fire burned about 8,400 acres in June and July.

Pete Gordon, fire staff officer for the Prescott National Forest, said drought conditions caused by little winter snow and rainfall contributed heavily to Prescott's bad summer.

He said the fire season started slowly, with few fires breaking out in May, but that changed in June, when windy, dry conditions created the greatest risk for large fires.

The 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed after a change in wind direction caused by a monsoon thunderstorm drove flames into a brush-choked canyon which the firefighters had entered.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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