'The impact is still severe': Arizona officials urge caution ahead of wildfire season despite improved drought conditions

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Gov. Katie Hobbs and state fire officials gathered outside the Arizona Capitol on Monday afternoon where they warned that the state would not be immune to wildfires in the coming months despite an unusually wet winter.

“Drought conditions have improved lately, but the impact is still severe in the state,” John Truett, a state fire management officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management, said. “As temperatures warm up, fire activity will increase including in southern Arizona where we’ve had an abundant amount of moisture and the grass crop is heavier loading than normal.”

Truett added that while heavy rain and snowfall in northern Arizona improved drought conditions somewhat, the increased growth of vegetation means more potential fuel for large-scale fires as temperatures increase throughout the summer.

Truett noted that the National Weather Service’s monsoon forecast for the year ranged from “normal to below normal,” and that wildfire season could extend past mid-July if it was the latter.

Hobbs thanked fire personnel throughout the state for their work and urged the public to exercise caution as they enjoy the outdoors over the next few months.

“In Arizona, we know that wildfire season typically runs from April through early July,” Hobbs said. “It's an unfortunate reality this time of year, but the good news is that being aware of this can help us prepare and take precautions to ensure that we avoid worsening the situation.”

Hobbs echoed warnings from fire officials that most wildfires are human-caused and to avoid certain activities that could spark a blaze.

She urged people not to burn debris on windy days nor drive vehicles onto tall grass as the heat from the vehicle’s undercarriage can be enough to start a fire. She asked campers to fully extinguish their campfires, completely dousing it with water and dirt until it’s cool to the touch.

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She also advised homeowners to make their abodes safer by removing dead or dying trees and moving flammable materials like firewood and propane tanks away from the property.

When asked whether firefighters receiving any pay increases that former Gov. Doug Ducey suggested as a possibility last year came to fruition, Truett said they did not and that staffing shortages remained an ongoing problem.

However, Truett wouldn’t offer specifics as to whether he had asked Hobbs for additional resources.

“We’re just asking for her support,” Truett said.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona wildfire season 2023: Officials urge caution despite rains