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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Prepare for Arizona Wildfire Season

Today's blog comes from Dolores Garcia, Wildfire Mitigation/Education and Community Assistance Specialist for the Bureau of Land Management - Arizona State Office

Dolores has been in the wildland fire business since 1994. She started her career helping to manage and mobilize Southwest Firefighter (SWFF) Type 2 crews with the US Forest Service on the Santa Fe National Forest. She was an Engine Captain with the US Forest Service on the Santa Fe National Forest, a Fire Prevention & Fire Look-Out Supervisor on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and an Aircraft Dispatcher at the Southwest Area Coordination Center before accepting her current position at BLM Arizona.

Wildfires can happen year-round in Arizona. The largest and most devastating typically occur between May and mid-July. You’ll often hear the timeframe referred to as “fire season” due to the peak intensity and high visibility of wildfires. Hot dry weather combined with accumulations of dry, drought stressed vegetation, when exposed to a flame, spark, or a heat source can create a raging inferno, threatening homes, communities, and some of our treasured landscapes in its path.

The most treasured item at risk whenever a wildfire occurs is human life.  Every wildfire directly impacts not only the first responders and firefighters but the public as well. 

Those of us in Emergency (or in my case Wildfire) Management take our roles very seriously. Public and emergency responder/firefighter safety is a primary tenet and driving factor in everything we do. We are first and foremost educators, helping the public get the information they need to be prepared for whatever emergency they may face.  

We also ensure that our first responders/firefighters have all they need, so that they too are prepared for whatever they may face.  What’s required can often seem daunting and at times discouraging.  But more often than not it is rewarding. 

During this time of year we focus efforts on wildfire awareness, preparedness and prevention.  We begin by asking a few simple questions, “Is your home or community at risk of wildfire?”  Typically followed by, “Are you prepared?”  

We look for communities to get Firewise TM and gradually work toward becoming a Fire Adapted Community by implementing techniques to give their homes and communities a fighting chance against wildfire.

We encourage homeowners to begin the evaluation of their home and landscaping, and to develop an Emergency Action Plan and an Emergency Kit.  Clearing gutters of dead leaves and pine needles, as well as trimming back brush and tree limbs, and knowing where you will go and what you need in case of an emergency is not only smart but essential.  All these actions not only decrease the risk to the home and the homeowner, but also to the firefighter/first responder.  Reduce the hazard, reduce the risk. 

We further reduce the risk by preventing wildfires. More than half of all wildfires in Arizona are caused by people and are often preventable. The rest is caused by lightning, which is also typically accompanied by higher humidity or rain, generally reducing the intensity of wildfires started in those conditions.  

As we have gone back to review location and causes of all person caused fires within Arizona, we have seen a pattern.  Many of our fires occur along the major roads and highways.  While most people see carelessly tossed cigarettes as the cause here, we see that the major cause of fire is dragging metal which can create sparks from trailer tow/safety chains, flat tires and rims striking pavement, poorly secured exhaust systems, and  metal hooks/buckles from tie-down straps. 

Another major cause of wildfires is abandoned, unattended or poorly extinguished campfires. Campfires are one of the main reasons most public land managers choose to put Fire Restrictions in effect within the peak of fire season. The purpose of Fire Restrictions is to limit or restrict activities that can cause wildfires during the time of year when conditions can lead to extreme fire behavior.

We are all in this together, Arizona. When we choose to reduce the hazards we choose to reduce the risk to ourselves, our homes, communities, neighbors, and first responders/firefighters. We choose to protect, to be prudent and purposeful in our actions, and be prepared for emergencies.

For more information on Arizona Firewise TM, becoming a fire-adapted community, developing emergency action plans, fire restrictions or fire prevention tips,  

Be sure to check out the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs’ Wildfire Preparedness campaign, Have Their Backs

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