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Forecasters Expect Very Active Wildfire Season

Forecasters are predicting a larger number of wildfires in Arizona and other southwestern states this season because of high temperatures and dry condition. (toa55/iStockphoto)
Forecasters are predicting a larger number of wildfires in Arizona and other southwestern states this season because of high temperatures and dry condition. (toa55/iStockphoto)
May 12, 2016

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Arizonans recently watched with concern as a mega-wildfire swept across northeastern Alberta, Canada, forcing the evacuation of more than 100,000 people.

Forecasters say the same conditions that caused the blaze in Canada also could bring a very active fire season to Arizona and the Southwest.

Northern Arizona University climatologist Wally Covington says conditions are ripe for a higher-than-normal number of wildfires.

"The outlook is for some pretty active fire through at least the month of June in the lower elevations,” he cautions. “Starting in June, we expect to see more active fires in the high country and we would expect that to intensify through August."

Covington says conditions across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Southern California have been hotter and drier than normal this year.

The National Interagency Fire Center agrees with that assessment, predicting above-normal fire potential for the region in May and June, returning to normal during the monsoon season in July and possibly continuing into August.

Covington says climate change and a weak El Niño cycle have left both forests and grasslands vulnerable.

He says high temperatures are a key element in starting wildfires because they dry out the fuel faster and bring moisture into the atmosphere, which produces lightning.

"What really makes those fires happen is when you have a front coming through with high wind speed and then ignition, whether it's by lightning or by man,” he explains. “The stage is set for landscape-scale fire or mega-fire."

Covington says massive fires such as the one in Alberta might be a harbinger of things to come in the Southwest, as the hot and dry conditions have the potential to fuel massive fires in some parts of the region this season.

Mark Richardson/Scott Herron, Public News Service - AZ