Six years ago, 19 members of the Granite Mountain firefighting team were tragically killed fighting the Yarnell Hill fire near Prescott. Our state, the community and their families will never forget the loss of these heroes who died to keep us safe.
Although it doesn’t compare to losing loved ones, Arizonans suffer in other ways when fires engulf our communities. As we’ve seen firsthand from photos of burned-out homes, memories and dreams can also go up in flames. Last year, the Tinder fire destroyed 33 homes near Payson.
Last week, I met with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in Phoenix to hear about ongoing preparedness efforts for this fire season. Their teams briefed me on the work they’re doing to contain the threat of wildfire spread and what legislative actions Congress could take to reduce the risk of wildfires.
We spoke about protecting communities in the wake of fires. For instance, the Woodbury fire continues and has already burned 65,903 acres (as of Friday, June 21). Local leaders are holding a community meeting for families to ask questions and be informed about the risk to their lands. It’s incumbent on each and every one of us to take responsibility to prevent the next wildfire.
While the pace of wildfire is consistent with years past, officials are estimating this season will be different. Our winter season had an uncharacteristic amount of rainfall and moisture — I even saw some snow at my house in Tucson. The increased moisture shouldn’t lead us to a false sense of security that this fire season will be less dangerous.
While this additional moisture has replenished our reservoirs and aquifers, it has also increased vegetation in areas that are usually dry. As the months become hotter, that same vegetation is now dying — which is like lighter fluid for fires to rip through our lands.
Contributing to these concerns, the National Weather Service is also predicting a delayed start to our monsoon season, which has the very real potential to make this fire season longer and harsher than usual.
It’s no secret that fighting these wildfires is expensive; not only in terms of the dollars and cents, but also through those who risk their lives every day to combat and extinguish the approaching flames. That’s why we must remain vigilant and do all we can to prevent the next big wildfire, no matter the environmental conditions we find ourselves in.
I recently introduced legislation to highlight the importance and value of a healthy and well-managed forest (including fire resistance, watershed and ecological sustainability). My bill will help our forestry officials to better manage forest lands and minimize the potential for wildfires. Active prevention helps us take better care of our forests and ultimately protect our homes, communities and loved ones when a devastating wildfire starts.
Reacting to a wildfire is never the ideal situation — especially when we had the opportunity to prevent it in the first place.
Please stay safe this fire season. Make sure to take all precautions; listen to officials, have a plan to leave immediately if a wildfire occurs in your area, use common sense and keep yourself informed of all of the ways fire officials communicate with residents in your area.
While this fire season is expected to be particularly active, we can all help in minimizing the danger.