Wildfires spread in hot dry conditions

Avianna Hoppes, editor in chief

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Avianna Hoppes
Many Arizonans have been struck by the effects of this year’s fire season as several wildfires have blazed across the state, burning everything in their path. Although the number of brush fires in Arizona this year is actually down from what was a year ago, the number of acres burned has increased.
According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, the state has only had 935 wild and brush fires burn during the first seven months of this year, compared to over 1,200 fires that burned in 2018 over the same period of time. However, over 235,000 acres have burned so far in 2019, compared to just 165,000 acres that burned in all of 2018.
“The fires have created problems such has heavier traffic and smelling smoke for a few days,” said Olvia Graeber, a senior.
One explanation for the bigger fires this year is the amount of moisture compared to last. The state was in a drought in 2018, so if a fire broke out it was easier to contain and put out. However, the increase in moisture from last winter has caused more vegetation to grow, such as grass and trees, helping a fire to grow and spread rapidly.
Many of the fires that have been raging across the state have started in remote locations. Small brush fires that burn in or near a city can be contained quicker than a wildfire that burns in a remote place.
“[The fires] often spread and get large in areas where it’s really hard to get people and equipment and most importantly water,” explained Rob McDade, captain of the Phoenix Fire Department. “We don’t have fire hydrants in the middle of these areas, so we have to bring in tanker trucks and brush trucks.”
According to Wildland Fire Management Information (WFMI), Arizona’s statistics are similar to the rest of the nation. 85 percent of both wildfires and brush fires in the United States since 2018 have been caused by humans. These unintentional acts of arson are often caused by campfires left unattended, discarded cigarettes, fireworks, and equipment malfunction.
“I think that a lot of major brush fires have been caused by people instead of nature. A lot of it is due to accidents or just pure carelessness. People need to be more aware of the environment,” said Graeber.
One example is the Jomax brushfire that burned next to Cave Creek Road in early July. It was a man-made fire caused by a remote control airplane crashing.
The other twelve percent of brush fires were caused by nature – often due to a lightning strike on dry ground. There is a difference between hot and cold flashes of lightning based on the lightning’s current. It is the “hot” lightning that often often put the firefighters into action.
“This is the most common cause of fires,” said McDade.
These Arizona brush fires have hit pretty close to home. Whether it was the Jomax fire, or the Rioverde fire that burned in August, local citizens have been on high alert.
“I have friends that live near some of the brush fires that have happened and they almost had to be evacuated,” said Madison Dodd, president of the Environmental Club.
This is not unique to Cave Creek though, as many towns across the state have been affected by the fires and by the increase in burning acreage. To put it in perspective, the amount of acres burned so far this year in the state of Arizona is greater than the size Tempe, Mesa, and Scottsdale combined – and the year is only half over.
The current state of wildfires and brush fires have not been limited to Arizona, but have also been a concern for people across the country as well as the world. Much of the current global news is about the Amazon wildfires raging in Brazil. Many climate change activists are upset with Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, as he turned down 20 million dollars in financial aid to help fight the fire. The Amazon fire was caused by the intentional burning of loggers and farmers in order to clear space in the forest.
One example of a fire that spread quickly and burned many acres of land was the largest brushfire in Arizona this year, the Woodbury Fire, which actually made history as the fifth largest fire in state history. The brush fire caused by humans burned more than 120,000 acres in early July. It was located just north of Superior near the Superstition mountains. Firefighters believe one reason why it spread so quickly was due to the amount of dry land in the area.
“Since it is so hot and dry, it is easier for these fires to start,” said Dodd.
Although the majority of fires are caused by humans, it is often mother nature who dictates how quickly the fire spreads (as was the case with the Woodbury Fire) and how dangerous it can become. Things like wind patterns, dryness, and amount of vegetation in the are are contributing factors to the rate at which these fires can spread.
“The wind is unpredictable so firefighters can find themselves in the path of the fire and it becomes very dangerous,” said McDade.
The late start to the monsoon season this year has extended the high-risk of wildfires by having a drier climate this late in the year. Earlier this month, three fires started in Tonto National Forest due to lightning strikes on dry ground.
According to National Geographic, the safest ways to prevent wildfires from happening include; making sure never to leave a fire unattended and be careful when using lanterns, stoves, heaters, or anything else that is flammable. Pay attention to local ordinances and make sure to correctly discard any cigarettes and smoking materials. If a fire is unattended to or a fire does break out, call 911 and the local fire department immediately. If evacuation is necessary, then do so immediately and make sure to have a plan prior to evacuation.

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