San Diego Fires

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Wildfires near San Diego are wreaking havoc. Arizona Bureau of Land Management spokesman Jim Payne will discuss the fires and Arizona’s efforts to help.

Ted Simons: The Arizona resources are ready to be used to fight San Diego area wildfires which have burned thousands of acres and forest. What we're hearing now is over 120,000 evacuations. Joining us now is Jim Payne with the Arizona Brewer of land management. It's good to have you here. I want to get to how much resources have been used over there, but as far as San Diego, this is awfully early for this kind of thing.

Jim Payne: It is. Their normal fire season comes later. August and September, when they have the Santa Ana winds which can run into October. Pretty much 100% of the state is in drought. They only had like a fraction of their snowpack. In San Diego County they had some rain but what that helped the grasses grow and the brush fields they have there. You have to think about San Diego County. People build in the valleys, at the small hilltops. We have brush fields that go up the sides of those hills. So, that whole area in this kind of condition with wind, that's the primary problem.

Ted Simons: So it's offshore breezes that really kickoff the Santa Ana's. Compare the drought now over in California to what we're experiencing in Arizona.

Jim Payne: We have severe drought here that's been going on for a number of years. The good news here is we have had some variable weather. Here with we were in the 90's, 80's. And we're going back it looks like, into the 80's next week. Once we hit the continuous over 100 degrees,100 degrees we'll start seeing more causes of fires here. That's one of the things we're pre-pearing for. How do we keep down the human caused side of it.

Ted Simons: As far as resources are concerned how much of what is designed for Arizona being used right now in San Diego?

Jim Payne: None of our resources have been sent over there except for one national air tanker, a DC 10, that was stationed at William's Gateway was sent over there to assist them with dropping retardant on the fires. All of our resources as far as engine, hotshot crews, municipal fire departments, everybody is staying home to make sure we're prepared here in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Nothing compromised now, but if that thing gets much more out of hand you have to figure more resources be needed.

Jim Payne: In California they have Cal fire, their forestry department. All of the municipal fire departments well-versed in wild land fire. They've got a lot of resources. They haven't needed our help at this point.

Ted Simons: We're looking at some of the -- wildfire. That's the tragedy. This is a tragedy all around. As far as Arizona firefighters are concerned, are they trained? Are they ready to go?

Jim Payne: They are ready to go and trained. Since January folks have been preparing. What we do is preparedness Between the BLM, forest service, national park service, state of Arizona Forestry Division and municipal fire departments are partners in making sure that they're prepared for fire season. Most municipal fire departments have a wild land vision. Have engines and firefighters that work closely with the federal agencies.

Ted Simons: Is that new?

Jim Payne: No. That's been going on for quite a while but every year that cohesiveness, coordination gets much better.

Ted Simons: You talk about interagency programs we're talking federal, state and local. Talk about how difficult it is to get everyone in line and ready to go.

Jim Payne: Well, that's once again training, making sure our firefighters are trained. Every march we have Arizona wildfire academy in Prescott. Those -- this year we had over 800 students. The majority obviously from Arizona. We actually had some from Australia. What we do in Arizona, in my mind we're well advanced. We have fire-wise communities. Where ommunities do their own thinning around structures like what they've done in Flagstaff, Prescott and other communities. Then as far as the campaign now called one less spark, one less wildfire, it's basically all the agencies together with one voice and one goal. That's to prevent human-caused fires which come to about % of the fires in Arizona.

Ted Simons: And I was looking, as far as fires this year what have we seen and how much of what we have seen human caused?

Jim Payne: Right now out of 415 fires, 103 were human caused. Only 12% were lightning caused from earlier in the year. San Carlos reservation right now has two large fires going. Southern New Mexico near Silver City has another fire going there. These fires start throughout the spring and really for the intensity May and June is our worst, but this year it could extend into July and August, depending on how substantial the monsoon is cause with this variable weather, we're ready for large fires unfortunately, also ready to respond.

Ted Simons: I heard a couple of different folks on the program saying that the fire season looks about average from a distance. Other folks say, oh, no, it looks much, much worse than that.

Jim Payne: Statewide it's probably about average. But if you look at the southeast part of the state up-to-into central Arizona probably higher than normal. But that could change. If we don't have this variable weather, if it stays hot, and we get ignitions, any source and winds, it could be off to the races.

Ted Simons: Now that you mention variable weather, though, when you have the cooling trends and heating trends usually the cooling trends are associated with winds. Winds not good.

Jim Payne: Winds cure out the vegetation more, makes them dry out more, but it does have a modifying effect with lower temperatures. It's the continuous high temperatures. We get into the single digits, any kind of ignition. And the thing that surprised a lot of people. People think, well, human caused fires are always from a campfire. Somebody didn't put their campfire out properly. Obviously those do happen, but it's the vehicle fires. If you look at a picture or map of the state of Arizona and you follow all the highways, the beeline highway, the highways that go to Wickenburg and places like that, between the BLM, forest service, park service, there's a clear line, all aong the highways, a bunch of fires. Dragging chains. Folks have a flat tire. They park their car on the side of the road, leave a rim. They park their car with catalytic converter on dry grass. Falling material off the back of the vehicle. Fires started on private land. Near Sedona a few years ago we had Somebody was welding on a fence, outside a steel post fence. Ignited a fire.

Ted Simons: That's where that information program comes into play.

Jim Payne: The one less spark, one less fire is a campaign to really bring attention to an adult education and say, hey, think about what you're doing. Use your head. Any spark can start a fire. You get wind behind it, and it goes.

Ted Simons: We have seconds left here. Are the Feds, state, all firefighters looking at a new normal when it comes to Arizona fire seasons because of what seems to be a new normal?

Jim Payne: We have had a new normal for a while based on our drought and the conditions out there. With changing weather, especially you talk about the winds coming in, then our high temperatures, especially average temperatures start rising, it's going to be a problem in the future. We have an average of about 2,400 fires a year in Arizona. Of those, 56% are human caused. The rest are pretty much lightning. The message is, folks, let's all help each other out make sure that you aren't the one who starts that fire.

Ted Simons: All right, Jim, good to see you.

Jim Payne: Thank you, Ted.

Jim Payne:Spokesman, Arizona Bureau of Land Management;

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