A federal report out in May indicates that Arizona’s wildfire season is expected to run a normal course. KTAR reporter Jim Cross, who extensively covers the wildfire season, will talk about the dangers facing the state this summer from wildfires.
Ted Simons: The national inter-agency fire center is suggesting that Arizona's upcoming fire season will be above normal. That's not good considering how major fires seem to be the norm of late. Joining us is Jim cross of KTAR radio. He has a long history of covering Arizona fires.
Jim Cross: It's been a long time.
Ted Simons: It has. You're out there every season. We talk to you every year about this. When does the Arizona fire season start usually?
Jim Cross: Pretty much anymore it's year round. It starts in earnest in May but it's been starting a few weeks ahead of that as the years have gone by. Right now we're really teed up for a bad fire season.
Ted Simons: Have we had much so far?
Jim Cross: Not a lot. A handful of thousand acre fires here and there. The big concern is we could have fires that run in the tens of thousands of acres by the time this is over with.
Ted Simons: Seems like once we get to someone flips a switch and here come the fires.
Jim Cross: Extreme heat warnings go into effect through the weekend. We have had windy days. Seems like every day it's 105, 110 . Humidity is very, very low.
Ted Simons: Are we expecting more in the desert areas, brush areas or more in the mountains this go round?
Jim Cross: I think it could be almost anywhere. We had just enough rain to fuel brush in the desert that can burn. The high country had less snowpack than usual. What snowpack we did have melted weeks ahead of normal. There's no snowpack left. I think it could happen almost anywhere.
Ted Simons: We do have red flag warnings out now.
Jim Cross: We will. We have had them up and running over the past couple three weeks. Nothing current but there will be.
Ted Simons: As far as what you're talking about, the weather and how it will affect maybe brushfires as opposed to mountain fires, how much does the winter weather affect what we see following summer?
Jim Cross: It affects it huge. In the high country you want the snowpack to at least soak into the wood. Right now fuel moisture are very low in the high country. Not a lot -- enough snow but not what we needed. It melted weeks ahead of usual. The desert again was -- we didn't get a lot of rain in the wintertime but just enough that it's not going to take much to spark a fire.
Ted Simons: Up in the high country bark beetle versus been a factor for years. Still a problem?
Jim Cross: Big problem. We have had some estimates according to researchers 10% of the southwest forests are dead because of those. Arizona has lost millions of acres due to bark beetles. Problem is you can't kill them unless you get strong winters. They don't like water. Right now they are chowing down.
Ted Simons: No kidding. As far as the drought is concerned, obviously not a good thing when things are drying out but with that in minds, it also keeps new fuel from growing. Still and all, not a good situation, the drought.
Jim Cross: We have been in a drought some estimates 20 years. Some researchers think it's possible we're in a Mega drought which could go a century. It happened before about 500 years ago. Nothing conclusive yet but this drought is showing no sign of letting up.
Ted Simons: What resource dos we have? I heard a DC-10 was available.
Jim Cross: It was brought in from Victorville, California. It flew the powerhouse fire out of side Los Angeles this week. It's a big, big plane. It can drop many more times the suppressant than a regular plane can. It was largely responsible for saving Greer. It can lay a line of retardant a mile long. They brought in hotshots from Montana.
Ted Simons: Is it unusual to get that kind of equipment and that kind of personnel before anything is even started? Is that an indication of what they are expected?
Jim Cross: I thought the DC-10 coming in when it did was a little bit early but it was explained the reason it's brought into Phoenix Mesa Gateway airport is it could had the New Mexico, Colorado, California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada. Colorado with wildfires, Mexico with filed fires. California dealing with the powerhouse fire. This plane C=can strike almost any place in the west.
Ted Simons: It seems like there may be more concern for Washington, for Oregon and for parts of northern California as much as in the southwest. What kind of dynamic is going on?
Jim Cross: There are people think this could be the worst wildfire season we have had in the west. Arizona was top of the list.
Ted Simons: Top of the list.
Jim Cross: Going into this season along with Colorado, New Mexico is always a concern. Now that's panning out over New Mexico and they are just starting. So we're probably conservatively four weeks out.
Ted Simons: Colorado got hit hard last year.
Jim Cross: Colorado got hit hard. New Mexico had the two largest wildfires they have ever had in that state last year. We after burning a million acres in dropped to about 200,000 last year. But it won't take much to get us back up in the higher range again.
Ted Simons: What is being done as far as forest thinning and any preventive measures? Are we still spinning our wheels on that? I know the four forest is happening to a certain degree. Anything else?
Jim Cross: There's thinning around communities. I think communities are going proactive on this. The four forests like you mentioned. They are trying to get a jump on it. It could take quite a few years to get everything back in balance to where we need to be.
Ted Simons: You can always predict one thing. It will be unpredictable. There's no way of knowing where that shot is going to happen.
Jim Cross: It's not. The conditions feel close to as bad as in 2002. They are definitely on par with 2011. That was the worst fire season we have ever had in the state in recorded history.
Ted Simons: Most people think radio sky was number one.
Jim Cross: We had the number one largest fire in state history in '11. Fourth largest -- nine of the top ten fires in recorded history in the state of Arizona have all occurred since 2002. The only one in the top ten that didn't was 1996 in the high country.
Ted Simons: Nine of the top ten since 2002.
Jim Cross: Starting with the radio fire.
Ted Simons: I hope you're not busy. I hope you have a very boring summer.
Jim Cross: I would like to say the same.
Ted Simons: Good to see you. Thanks for joining us.
Jim Cross: Always a pleasure.