California is burning and Arizona firefighters have gone to the rescue — including firefighters from the Hellsgate, Pine-Strawberry and Christopher-Kohls fire districts.
In total, Arizona sent 120 firefighters and 34 engines, but it took two requests for California to get the support it needed due to the increase in the number and severity of fires.
“On Thursday, Oct. 24, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management received an initial order for 10 engines to head to California. On Sunday, California fire officials asked for 24 more,” said Tiffany Davila, the public affairs outreach officer for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
The crews and equipment are “stationed throughout California,” said Davila.
“Some of those crews are staged in anticipation of new fire starts, while others are acting as backfill for local departments. The other 10 engines have already been assigned to various wildfires,” she said.
Hellsgate Chief John Wisner reported Hellsgate has sent four firefighters and an engine.
“We’re helping out the Palomar Ranger District,” he said.
Mark Hanson, an engineer with the Christopher-Kohls Fire District, confirmed a crew is in California.
“They were called to man a pre-position area. They will cover an area in case something is there,” said Hanson.
That means the Christopher-Kohls firefighters have not seen action, they are just waiting in an area in case a fire starts.
Typically, when firefighters get called up for this type of assignment, “we get called out for up to two weeks,” he said.
Firefighters will work a minimum of 14 days on assignment.
“As California braced for another wind event in the next few days, it is likely they may request more resources from Arizona,” said Davila.
Here in Arizona, on the heels of the worst recorded monsoon in history, a cold front moved across northern Arizona early in the week, causing the National Weather Service to publish a red flag warning.
“This is a dry cold front, so afternoon relative humidity values will continue to remain in the single digits to low teens,” said the NWS on its website.
This lack of moisture has put all but 5 percent of Arizona in drought conditions in October, in comparison to 24 percent the previous month, according to the Arizona Drought Monitoring Technical Committee.
The tepid monsoon ended with heavy rainfall in September.
But with neither any indication of La Niña nor El Niño conditions in the Pacific, the drought committee cannot predict “any tendency for above or below normal precipitation heading towards the fall and early winter season.”
Local departments make sure to leave enough resources to fight a fire at home, even if they get called to another state, said Hanson.
“We still maintain our minimum staffing,” he said.
The department sent a back up truck to California leaving the “main apparatus” in Rim Country, said the engineer.
As weather and rain patterns change, the best defense against fire remains building with fire-resistant materials and removing brush around homes.
At this time, Payson and Gila County do not have comprehensive regulations regarding building with fire-resistant materials designed to protect homes or Firewise codes to force the removal of brush from areas around homes.
Although Arizona has fewer people than California, the state has a higher percentage of homes built in the wildland-urban interface.
According to the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Arizona has 45 to 60 percent of homes in the WUI.
In comparison, California has 15 to 30 percent.