Wildfire Update

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After a slow start to the wildfire season, a wildfire near Kearny forced the evacuation of 200 homes. Wildfire reporter Jim Cross of KTAR Radio will bring us up to date on our wildfire season.

TED SIMONS: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake says he'll give a $1,000 campaign donation to charity, after learning the money was donated to his campaign by the leader of a white separatist group cited by the gunman charged with killing nine people at a South Carolina church. Flake and others were receiving donations from Earl Holt from the Council of Conservative Citizens. The group was cited as an influence in an online manifesto written by the alleged gunman.

TED SIMONS: Arizona's wildfire season is here, things have been relatively quiet so far compared to recent years. The danger still exists for the outbreak of costly and damaging fires. Here to bring us up to date is KTAR radio's wildfire reporter our good friend, Jim Cross. Good to see you.

JIM CROSS: Ted, good to see you again.

TED SIMONS: Is it me? Or should we not just be surrounded by flames? It seems like things just are not happening like they usually are.

JIM CROSS: We're usually in fire season…well we are in fire season now but usually the worry and concerns start weeks ahead of this. The forests are usually all in restrictions right now. I can't remember when all of the forests weren't in restrictions right now. We have one forest, the Tono in forest restrictions. We had a wet May. The first hurricane brought moisture into the state and made it one of the wettest days in May, just off one storm. We're better off than past years. This recent heat wave kind of baked out the desert and that helped light up the Kearney fire, keep it moving. At Salt Cedar it took out three homes.

TED SIMONS: The Kearney River fire contained?

JIM CROSS: Pretty much done, the homes are out of danger. There were two or three days where it was a big concern. It burned incredibly hot, as hot as Phoenix, and they were in a canyon. Again they jumped on it quick, and it was probably the most dangerous fire so far this year.

TED SIMONS: And again, because of the wet May as we were talking earlier, it seemed like spring lasted all the way until June. We've got the monsoon coming here now in the next few weeks or so, technically it's here now but we know it's not quite here yet. I mean we could escape some big-time trouble this go-around.

JIM CROSS: We should. We're looking about the next two or three weeks, the big concern with the fire guys I've talked to is the monsoon coming in and ahead of it the dry lightning. Looks like Flagstaff could start to see thunderstorms later on this week, this weekend, southeastern Arizona maybe earlier than that. Dry lightning is what we heard about the most at Kearney. Even though that's not what started the fire but what they were concerned about with it coming in. You know the monsoon somewhere out in the middle of nowhere building up a head of steam and getting rolling. Right now we have a lot of firefighters in the state. California has fire, Washington and Alaska have fires, and right now we have all the manpower, all the equipment we need in the state. It's going to start fanning out as we go along with the fire season.

TED SIMONS: The biggest concern right now, higher elevation or lower elevation?

JIM CROSS: Lower right now. Desert areas which are basically cooked by this 115, 110-degree weather, it moves up four, 5,000 feet. I mean there are some concerns in the High Country, especially as it's been drying out. Flagstaff was having record temperatures too. So things are dry up there, but they are not as dry as they have been in the past.

TED SIMONS: Yeah because usually when you have a wet winter, the low-lying deserts will get all that brush and those wildflowers, they dry up, there's the fire season.

Well we have two desert bloom seasons basically. And then we had those late May rainfalls. And it fueled more growth and that's whats burning--what will burn once it goes more than the High Country. At least early on.

TED SIMONS: The slow start, could that mean a prolonged fire season?

JIM CROSS: Hopefully it'll be short, because you have--ordinarily we're in fire restrictions weeks ahead of where we are right now. Monsoons are officially underway by the calendar. If you just go first week in July, the window has been narrowed. Because we're in the third week now of June. So from the time the rains get here it's closed. So the window has closed a lot of the fire season. We're better off than we have been in the past. That's not to say we won't have some serious fires. We could have some fairly large fires, not totally ruling it out but not on the scale of the past.

TED SIMONS: Suppression efforts in the winter time and the non-fire season, how are they going around the state? Are they making a difference?

JIM CROSS: Yeah I mean there are several projects around the state right now that they think that thinning projects have worked better. I think that here's a lot more fire initiative well underway, they still have miles to go on that but they're making progress there. So the efforts being made to you know thin out the forest, do a lot more proscribed burns there are several prescribed burns right now ahead of the fire season. So yeah they are moving right along.

TED SIMONS: As you mentioned, one more thing on this regarding firefighters, they are all here right now. But as the west continues to burn, they will go all over the place. There has to be a concern if we do get hit with something here in the next few weeks, we've got hope these folks are still around to help.

JIM CROSS: California is in as bad a shape as we've ever seen. And it really moves up the west coast. Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, inland you go into Utah. But California is absolutely the gold standard for bad fire conditions right now. They have the big fire outside of Big Bear Lake right now, probably the first of many serious fires they will be dealing with, horrific drought over there.

TED SIMONS: As the summer goes on things usually get worse for them. We have the monsoon, they don't.

JIM CROSS: They don't. And this will be months out. Weather forecasters are forecasting a fairly wet El Nino to come in. Good news for Arizona if it delivers. Rain, snow and in better amounts than we've had.

We haven't had a good winter in five years, the last one was in 2010. So we need that El Nino moisture in here.

TED SIMONS: All right Jim, let's hope that things are quiet this year, as quiet as we've seen in quite a while. Good to have you here, good to see you again.

JIM CROSS: Thanks, Ted.

Jim Cross:KTAR Radio Reporter

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