Snowfall Ends Dry Spell, But More Moisture Needed


by Jennifer Atkinson, Roundup Reporter Intern

After 99 long, dry days, snow fell in Payson last week, quenching the Rim country's tinder-dry forests, which have been a hot spot for fires this year.

On Jan. 2, four inches of snow fell in Payson and on Jan. 3, an additional two inches fell.

"The last time it rained in Payson was on Sept. 23," Mark Stubblefield, National Weather Service meteorologist, said. "Snow in the town came later than usual, it's been really dry all over the state."

There have been 80 fires this year in the Tonto Forest, Dan Eckstein, assistant fire management officer for the Payson Ranger District, said. Ten fires flared up in November and December of 1999.

"It's highly unusual for us to have such a dry fall and winter, which has perpetuated the fires," Eckstein said. "The dryness affected the fires in a definite way, especially in the Elk Fire that began on Dec. 4, 1999."

The Elk Fire burned 185 acres and burned nine days before it was brought under control, he said.

The dry conditions also have prevented forest officials from conducting prescribed burns, which help keep the fuel loads in the forest down.

"Basically since October, prescribed burning did not happen," he said. "We ran out of our prescription burning because of the lack of forest and field moisture."

With the recent snowfall, however, forest officials can begin their prescribed burning program to thin out thick, easily combustible snags in the forest.

But the six inches of snow the area received last weekend isn't enough to make up for the near 100-day dry spell, Eckstein said.

"If we don't get more moisture, it's not going to come near to making up for the deficit earlier in the year," he said. "We really need more moisture. The snow was not enough to really soak into the ground much. It's going to stop our fire problem for a while, but if we don't get more, we are going to be hurting in the spring."

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