Arizona’s lack of monsoons and extreme drought conditions this year have lengthened the fire season for the state as well as making fires more severe.
Wildfires have been more active this year, wreaking havoc across various parts of the country, especially in California. Arizona has seen similar troubles, as according to U.S. Drought Monitor, “Arizona and California have had their warmest April to September period ever in 126 years,” and that the monsoon season was “minimal at best.” But the environment isn’t the only cause of these fires, as human-sourced fires have had a big play in this year’s excessive amount of fires.
California was ravaged by wildfires throughout the summer, leaving skies red and air polluted with smoke across the state. This year alone, California has had 8,320 fires, with more than4 billion acres of land burnt, according to CAL FIRE. Currently, there are 22 active fires that have burnt over 1,000 acres of land, according to CAL FIRE.
California isn’t the only state that has seen its share of wildfires this year, as Arizona still has a handful of active wildfires across the state that have so far burnt over 1,000 acres of land, according to the Fire, Weather & Avalanche Center.
The fire season in Arizona usually peaks near the end of June, as it is normally the “warmest and driest” parts of the year, according to the National Weather Service.
And although monsoon season, which runs from June 15 to Sept. 30, helps with reducing the fire threat of Arizona’s land, such as dead or dry grass and other plants, monsoon weather can also spark fires from lightning strikes, according to NWS.
Lightning was one of the most common reasons a fire started during Jim McRae’s experience as an air attack pilot, whose job is to fly firefighters to locate or manage fires, according to McRae.
Now retired, McRae explained that during his time as an air attack pilot, the most intense fire he encountered was a grass fire, which ended up burning close to 400,000 acres.
“They move rapidly and they change direction frequently,” McRae said, “it’s really hard to stay in front of the fires.”
The aircrafts used to manage the fires will usually drop a red-colored substance called retardant, which is comprised of mainly water and fertilizer, according to McRae. The retardant is used to inhibit the fire.
According to Shawn Gilleland, a spokesman for Rural Metro Fire, 90% of the fires so far in 2020 were human-caused. This has become a more severe problem than in the past because people working more from home are seeking outdoor treks with COVID-19 restrictions.
Fire causes can range from “target shooting in restricted areas, abandoned campfires, equipment usage, and roadside fires.
Some ways to prevent human-caused wildfires according to the National Interagency Fire Center are to “learn how to properly use outdoor equipment; burn debris safely; start, maintain, and extinguish a campfire; maintain a vehicle and tow safely, and practice fire-safe target shooting.”
Homeowners should also make sure to have combustibles such as firewood, picnic tables, and boats should be kept away from structures, according to the NIFC.