|Governor Ducey delivered the 2022 Wildfire Outlook yesterday with frontline firefighters from the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, emphasizing the importance of simple steps we all can take to help prevent wildfires. |
Arizona faces year-round wildfire risk. This year, Governor Ducey allocated $36 million in the executive budget to fund the second phase of the Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative. Earlier this week, over 100 inmates graduated to be part of the first Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative crew. Additionally, nearly $17 million is dedicated to increase the Fire Suppression Revolving Fund to quickly reimburse local fire departments who help respond to wildfires.
Arizona’s wildfire season could be even more catastrophic in 2022 than in previous years, Gov. Doug Ducey and fire officials warned during a news conference at the state Capitol on Thursday.
“I’m reluctant to call it wildfire season anymore because as our firefighters and fire officials know, Arizona faces the risk of wildfires year-round,” Ducey said.
Ducey said Arizona lost over 500,000 acres to wildfires last year and over 900,000 acres in 2020. He urged people to exercise caution over the coming months, such as ensuring their trailer chains don’t drag, not driving near tall grass and fully extinguishing campfires.
“I want to thank all Arizonans for their responsibility and vigilance in this effort,” Ducey said. “Preventing wildfires takes an all-hands-on-deck approach and these small steps make a big difference.”
Last year’s largest fire, the Telegraph Fire, burned over 180,000 acres, destroying roughly 51 structures near Superior, and took nearly a month for firefighters to fully contain it. Arizona’s second-largest fire last year, the Rafael Fire which started in Perkinsville in Yavapai County, was less than half the Telegraph Fire’s size at around 78,000 acres.
The governor also touted the Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative, which he signed last year to increase the number of people working to prevent fires in the state by training more than 700 Arizona inmates over a two-year period and creating partnerships to reduce wildfire fuels.
“I’m pleased to report that the first 100 participants of the Healthy Forest Initiative just graduated yesterday and will begin removing excess shrubbery from our land,” Ducey said. “I’m confident that these men and women can help us prevent more wildfires from occurring, and I’m glad that they’re getting a second chance at a new life after they’ve paid their debt and served their sentence.”
The initiative seeks to remove shrubs and other common fuel sources for wildfires across 20,000 acres annually.
Ducey said the state budget proposes an additional $36 million to fund the program’s second phase and $17 million for a fund to quickly reimburse local fire departments that assist in combatting wildfires.
John Truett, state fire management officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management, described wildfire potential in 2022 as being “very extreme” thanks to last year’s particularly wet monsoon season cultivating increased vegetation that has since dried out over the past few months and potentially becoming fuel for the next wildfire.
Truett said firefighters use a plethora of equipment to limit and extinguish wildfires, but asked for the public’s assistance in preventing them from igniting in the first place.
“We need help,” Truett said. “We need the public’s help in reducing the risk.”
Truett also said fire agencies across the state are also facing staffing issues.
“With the expanse of just the extreme drought throughout the West, we’re in heavy competition with a lot of the other agencies whether it’s federal, local and state,” Truett said. “We’re having a hard time filling our vacancies. We recruit. The incentives are there. But again, with just the amount of resources needed now to combat the wildland fire, we just don’t have enough folks that are willing to come out and do the job that we do.”
Truett said he didn’t have an exact figure on how many vacancies Arizona’s fire agencies had, but said every western state had moderate to severe staffing shortages.
Ducey suggested that higher wages for firefighters could be necessary to attract more people from other agencies or into the career itself.
“We need more people,” the governor said. “We need more staff. We need more firefighters. We likely need more resources and higher pay for these hardworking men and women. We’re seeing inflation across our country and in our state. We’re seeing some wage inflation as well and we have to address what is a very worthy and exciting career with proper pay.”
Aaron Casem, a state prevention officer with the same agency, advised people to look up weather conditions for their location and the area they’re visiting and ensure their vehicles are in good, working order before traveling.
“Some of our large fires that have started in the area in recent history have started with vehicle fires that expanded and transitioned into the wildland,” Casem said. “Making sure that you’re doing preventative maintenance on your vehicles is going to be huge.”
Casem also advised those with homes adjacent to undeveloped areas to create a defensible space around their property, removing combustible objects and having a plan in place in case of emergencies.
“Have a go-bag that’s ready with medication, important documents, information, etc.,” Casem said.