Rim clouds

The National Weather Service predicts a “near normal” year for wildfires in Rim Country.

Preparations for fire season have begun — a helicopter now sits at the Payson Airport ready to support the Forest Service.

At the Payson Ranger District, the Hotshot recruits for the year have just about finished up their training.

And Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin had her annual fire season meeting to make sure government agencies and officials stand ready to fight fire.

Fortunately, the rain continues to fall — with each passing storm putting off the start of the peak danger for another week.

So far this year, Payson has had nearly nine inches of rain.

The National Weather Service’s 2019 Fire Season Outlook report so far calls for a “normal” fire year — complicated by the growth of a lush crop of grass that makes the perfect tinder once it dries out. That worries firefighters.

“Fine fuel loading (grass) has generally been above normal (especially in the lower terrain) which could lead to a higher low-elevation fire threat,” concluded the report.

Already the Globe area had a brush fire. The East Fire burned up 5.9 acres in two days.

Unfortunately, megafires don’t need extreme drought to take off. The Goodwin (2017) and the Schultz (2010) fires happened during years of moderate drought.

Still, “exceptional” and “severe” drought have remained the predominant condition for the past decade.

During those 10 years, the state suffered mega wildfires such as the Schultz (2010), Wallow (2011), Gladiator (2012), Yarnell Hill (2013), Slide (2014), Goodwin (2017), and Tinder (2018).

The NWS cautioned, “Even though drought conditions are improving, Arizona will still have a fire season.”

The current forecast calls for wetter and cooler than normal weather at the higher elevations throughout April.

Normal conditions will likely take effect in May and June.

On a positive note, only 18 percent of the state is in drought, compared to 100 percent last year.

Another good bit of news, the vegetation is not as dry as last year.

Leading the NWS to state, “near normal significant wildland fire potential across the Mogollon Rim and Yavapai/Mohave counties.”

Contact the reporter at

contact the reporter at: mnelson@payson.com

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