Fire Outlook For Summer On The Coconino National Forest
Temperatures have been heating up all week long. With the warmer temperatures comes a greater risk for wildfire. Arizona Public Radio's Aaron Granillo spoke with Don Muise, Fire Staff Officer on the Coconino National Forest, to discuss fire season in northern Arizona.
Aaron Granillo: It's been a wet year. Precipitation is well above normal across the region. But, summer heat is now here. What does that mean for forest managers on the Coconino?
Don Muise:Well, let me start out by saying that any given day of the year we could have a fire here. But, this year has been particularly damp and moist. And the conditions have been such that we haven't had any problem fires at all, which is quite a contrast from a year ago.
And just this week you have been managing two lightning-caused fires. So, clearly the fire danger is still there even though it has been so wet.
Right. We're showing moderate fire danger on our signs and our indices. The scientific stuff that we use to determine where we are in comparison to other years is showing very, very low in terms of the instance of a large fire. But, that doesn't mean that a fire can't carry through some of the dead grass and the needles that are on the ground. So, we're optimistic but we're cautious also.
And you mentioned just how unusual this year is. There are no fire restrictions in effect on the forest and it's mid-June. How uncommon is that?
Well it's happened in the past. It's been about four or five years since we've not had any restrictions and that doesn't mean we won't go into restrictions if the drying and the humidity stay down very low. But at this point in time the fuels on the ground are still quite damp and it will take some time for them to dry out. So, the fuels, obviously, are the carriers of the fire. So, when we think about are conditions we talk about where we are, in terms of for a catastrophic wildfire. And, we aren't there at this time.
Can you talk about how you measure forest fuels. How do you know when you're at that catastrophic or that critical level?
Sure, so we have historical data that we check on a weekly basis and sometimes daily basis. And then we compare that to the highest that it's ever been. For instance, last year we were at this time a very high to extreme fire danger. It tracks also the lowest we've ever been. And, actually this year we've been breaking the records for low, in terms of moisture on the ground. We use indices that's called the energy release component. And what that does is basically tells you how hot a fire is going to be if one does get started in the worst case scenario. And that's very low right now. We're breaking records for that. So, that's a good indication for us of how our season is compared to other seasons. And this year, obviously, is very damp.
Lastly, Don, just the message for people who are camping out in the forest. Clearly, the weather is nice and there's going to be more and more people out there. What's the message?
Well, we certainly want people to enjoy their national forests. But, we want people to be vigilant about what's going on around them. Certainly it's going to be warm and dry and the conditions will be worsening. If you do have a campfire, it's certainly allowed at this time. Make sure it's in a good ring and that there's somebody around it at all times. Don't leave it unattended. And certainly once you're done camping and leave your camp, make sure that fire is dead out to the touch. We've had a rash of issues with abandoned campfires because I think most folks think it's not going to go anywhere. But, all it takes is a little ember from one of those fires to get in some dry fuels and it can run on us.