Gila County sees record fire season

Aerial map of some of the fires in Gila County.

Fire season in the Southwest usually runs from May through mid-July, when the monsoons provide precipitation to slow fire activity. Wildfire season may officially be over, but Arizona residents are still not out of the woods. In the past few years, wildfires seem to have a longer season, be more frequent and be more severe. 

The 2020 wildfire season in Gila County has been one of the most active in history, consuming more than 467,000 acres. This year, firefighters battled 28 fires in Gila County from June through August.

Why have the wildfire seasons grown? The exceptionally wet winters that provide for the growth of fuels, followed by minimal monsoon precipitation and lightning strikes, makes the perfect recipe for fire. These fires have had the fuel and the winds needed to spread quickly. Firefighters have also noticed an increase of the size of fires over the years. 

Wildfires have burned more than 700,000 acres throughout Arizona, and Arizona isn’t the only state seeing an increase in fires. All across the country, wildfires have been on the rise and resources have been sent from all over the country to assist.

For Gila County, the local fire departments and the Tonto National Forest Service are the first response to the fires. Wildfires and structural fires are handled differently, but the firefighters at both Globe Fire Department and Tri-City Fire Department are cross-trained in both fields on a regular basis. The agreement and the great working relationship between the fire departments and the Forest Service has helped improve the response, communication and overall safety of the communities.

Chief Gary Robinson of the Globe Fire Department and Chief Nic Rennon of Tri-City Fire Department told the Arizona Silver Belt that they respond to all fires within their area, so they were on the initial calls for the two wildfires that caused evacuations. The Griffin fire and the Salt fire were both ignited by lighting the same night; local resources were sent to both. The Salt Fire was within the Tri-City Fire District boundaries. They upstaffed to ensure any and all needs of the community were met and anticipated spot fires would be covered. The Griffin Fire fell into the Globe Fire area and they upstaffed as well as mandatory call backs. During these fires, there were reports of incidents that were handled by citizens and not emergency response personnel. Battalion Chief Tony Grainger stated that at any time you can call 911 and you will get the appropriate response from your fire district.

There was a huge coordination with the fire management team, fire departments and the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. Meetings were held twice a day and input from Rennon and Robinson was valued for fire action plans.

Both departments would like to remind everyone of the importance of a “Firewise” boundary around your home. Firewise techniques include minimizing the risk of home ignition by carefully landscaping around residential structures by thinning trees and brush, choosing fire-resistant plants, selecting ignition-resistant building materials and positioning structures away from slopes. It’s never too late to become Firewise or a fire-adapted community, even in the communities that recently experienced the wildfires. Wildfires in Arizona have been seen as late as December. Visit the Gila County Emergency Management website at https://www.gilacountyaz.gov/government/health_and_emergency_services or on Facebook for resources and the Ready, Set, Go program.

The burn scar left behind raises issues for flooding, and many forest service roads remain closed for safety along with areas of Roosevelt Lake.

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