We’ve had the coolest, wettest May in 35 years, and the local fire departments are struggling to keep up with the number of calls for house and brush fires.
Up is down, black is white, Abbott is Costello.
According to the National Weather Service in Tucson, the average high temperature in May was 84.8 degrees, 6.8 degrees below the average of 91.6. The average low was 56.9 degrees, 3.6 degrees below normal.
And the region saw an average of 1.22 inches of rainfall in May, almost 1 inch above May’s average and the second most on record (1931 saw 1.34 inches of rain).
So why all the fire? Because of the ongoing drought.
We’re in the 21st year of drought here in Arizona and, according to the Arizona State Climate Office, things aren’t looking good in the immediate future.
Projections into July call for abnormally dry conditions for Greenlee County and abnormally dry conditions for most of Graham County, except for the southwest corner of the county (part of the San Pedro River watershed), which will experience severe drought conditions, and the south-central portion of the county (part of the Willcox Playa watershed), which should not experience drought conditions.
In other words, fire season ain’t going away anytime soon.
Wildfire is such a risk that, for the first time in its history, the U.S. Forest Service is spending more than 50 percent of its annual budget on wildland fire suppression — and that’s still not enough.
Since 2010, 10 Western states have experienced the largest fires in those states’ histories, and there were 46,000 wildland fires nationwide last year.
According to the North American Seasonal Fire Assessment and Outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center, it’s expected that fuels (grass, brush and trees) should start drying up in June, and the fire risk outlook for all of southern Arizona is expected to be above normal in June and July.
Fires in a drought may be inevitable — no one can prevent a lightning strike — but that doesn’t mean we are unable to minimize fire’s impact.
Such as creating “defensible space” around the home. This includes planting fire-resistant plants, spacing plants and trees to slow the spread of fire, keeping the lawn cut short and keeping roofs free of dried needles and leaves.
Also keep trailer chains from dragging on the ground and throwing off sparks. Severely worn brake pads can result on metal rubbing against metal, creating sparks that can ignite dried vegetation on the side of the road, so pads should be changed at the first sign of wear.
Finally, cigarettes should be extinguished and disposed of properly, not tossed on the ground. And fireworks are never allowed on public lands.
Let’s face it, as long as this drought continues, we’re going to see more fires. Hopefully none as devastating as 2017’s Frye fire, which burned for a month and consumed nearly 50,000 acres on Mount Graham.
But just because fire is a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean we can’t take commonsense steps to reduce fire’s impact. We all need to start thinking fire safe every day as we head into the heart of fire season.