Fire Danger High

Conditions have firefighters braced for busy fire season

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Fire departments around the Rim Country are gearing up for what could be an extremely active fire season.

According to the Southwest Coordination Center, the potential for significant wildland fire activity in 2007 for the Southwest is above normal for much of Arizona and the Four Corners area.

Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi said his department is well aware of the potential, and is prepared for above-average fire danger.

There are many reasons this season is dangerous, deMasi said. The drought is ongoing, there is a lot of fuel in the area and more people are visiting the Rim Country.

"Fortunately, we have had some rain lately, but it also means grass will grow and (eventually) dry out," he said. "Come May and June, it is going to be a tough fire season."

According to the SWCC, the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor image shows western portions of the Southwest are in a severe-to-extreme drought.

This, according to the SWCC report, could lead to an increased amount of dead fuel and unusually low moisture in both live and dead fuels.

The Payson fire chief said people must be extremely careful this year with fire, adding this year's danger is about the same as last year.

"We have been very fortunate," he said. "Everyone is working together, and we have been lucky."

DeMasi said firebreaks were constructed in the spring and summer of 2006, and piles of brush and debris are currently being burned.

Diamond Star Fire Department Chief Gary Hatch said the newest projection from the Arizona State Land Department is that the 2007 fire season will be above normal.

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A water bladder in Pine can pump water into a dipping tank for pick up by a helicopter.

"At the end of April, we dry up on moisture, and we are way behind," Hatch said.

"We are dry. It does look like it could be major," he said. "The forest is just getting thicker and thicker, and forest fires are increasing."

DeMasi said education is the key to fire prevention. Area fire departments will be holding a Firewise workshop from 9 a.m. to noon, April 28 at Gila Community College.

Hatch added residents should contact their local fire departments to have Firewise inspections done on their homes.

"We have got to take action if we want to protect communities," he said. "The potential for a catastrophic fire gets worse every year, so we have to do more preparation."

The U.S. Forest Service has approved $2.3 million for the 2007 fiscal year for Payson and Verde thinning projects.

These forest thinning projects, identified as priority acres in the Rim Country Community Wildfire Protection Plan, will effectively reduce the risk of wildfire to 17 communities in Gila County.

The $2.3 million, deMasi said, will definitely help.

"We support what the Forest Service is doing," he said.

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