Arizona is experiencing what officials are considering to be a catastrophic wildfire season. In a press conference, Governor Doug Ducey, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, along with federal and local wildland fire officials emphasized the importance of residents and visitors alike to be cautious and prepared for this coming wildfire season. Governor Ducey during the conference stated that in 2021, more than 1,700 wildfires burned approximately 525,000 acres of land across the state in all land jurisdictions. This year does not look promising, with wildfire activity already present throughout the state while the weather has yet to warm up to summer conditions.
So far Arizona has already experienced five wildfires, Crooks Fire, San Rafael Fire, Locklin Fire, Presumido Peak Fire, and Tunnel Fire. These wildfires have collectively consumed 42,813 acres of land within the state according to data from the U.S. Forest Service wildfire tracking website InciWeb. The Tunnel Fire alone burned more than 19,000 acres and was so destructive that Governor Doug Ducey had to declare a State of Emergency to assist communities in affected areas with resources needed to respond and recover from the fire.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2022 National Centers For Environmental Information State Climate Summaries, temperatures in Arizona have risen by 2.5°F since the beginning of the 20th century and the first 21 years of this century have been the warmest period on record for the state. The summary also found that Arizona has experienced a long-term drought that has lasted more than 20 years as well as record low water levels in Lake Mead, a critical water resource for the state. Naturally occurring droughts are expected to become more intense during cooler seasons since Arizona has not experienced frequent precipitation events.
The U.S. Drought Monitor supports the research present in the NOAA summary. The monitor updates every Tuesday, and as of May 17th, 67 percent of the areas within Arizona experience severe to exceptional drought conditions. These conditions affect many residents across the state, and according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 100 percent of people in Maricopa County experience moderate levels of drought and 30.46 percent experience severe levels of drought.
Governor Ducey last year signed Arizona Senate Bill 1442 with the aim to prevent more wildfires by employing Arizona inmates to clear forests of debris and handle vegetation management. The goal of this initiative is to improve the overall health of the state’s forests while inmates gain new opportunities and skills during incarceration which will prepare them for employment once they are released. The city of Phoenix also has a Climate Action Plan that is a long-term strategy which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from local city operations and community activities with the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 in order to prepare for the increasing impacts of climate change.