By Scottsdale Pinetop
Every year White Mountain residents hold their breath when fire season rolls around. They pray for the snow and rains, but prepare their homes for the worst. And with the two major fires lurking around the edges of the White Mountains these past two weeks, it seems these preparations cannot come soon enough.
This past winter was one of the driest in Arizona history and is paving the way for an equally historic fire season. The memories of the 2001 Rodeo-Chediski Fire and 2011 Wallow Fire, the two largest fires in Arizona history, remain fresh in the minds of many Arizona residents. For those who don’t remember, the Rodeo-Chediski fire burned nearly 469,000 acres, torched 1,200 homes and forced the evacuation of 35,000 people. The Wallow Fire burned 522,642 acres. Arizona can’t afford another massive wildfire.
Arizona officials are doing their part to prepare for an unusually dry summer season.
On April 30th, Governor Doug Ducey declared a State of Emergency in response to the Tinder Fire. This declaration allowed for additional state resources to become available for response efforts. As of Friday May 4th, Stage II fire restrictions are in effect in Maricopa, Yavapai, Yuma, Navajo and portions of Pinal County. Stage II fire restrictions involve limiting the number of activities that are typically allowed in forests, such as campfires and smoking and will remain in place until significant moisture arrives. This will be the earliest Arizona has implemented these restrictions in the state’s history.
But even these proactive steps might not be able to stop the inevitable dangers of fire season.
As much as White Mountain residents would like to blame visitors as the cause for forest fires, locals are just as capable of irresponsible behavior when it comes to managing fire prevention. Recklessness knows no regional or geographical boundaries. Regardless of full time, part time, season residents or visitors, fire safety is everyone’s responsibility, in any forest environment. The White Mountains are a unique aspect of Arizona’s landscape. It serves as a nice getaway vacation from the Arizona desert heat. It home to a variety of forest wildlife and small town charm. Kill our forests and we kill a special part of Arizona’s identity. As Smokey The Bear might say, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”