Phoenix, AZ (9/27/23) – The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) proactively treats 9,332 acres in prescribed burn projects since January, and over the spring burn period, thanks to Mother Nature and last year’s significant amount of precipitation. That abundant moisture and cooler than normal temperatures allowed DFFM prescribed fire managers the opportunity to successfully target and treat more acres so far this year as compared to 2022. Last year, fire staff completed approximately 8,000 acres in prescribed burning during the calendar year. The significant increase in the number of acres treated so far this year has helped the agency make substantial progress with its ongoing goals of wildfire risk reduction, community, infrastructure and watershed protection, and forest health improvements.
For 2023 in Northern Arizona, DFFM treated approximately 5,800 acres on State Trust and private lands with a majority of the project work located in the Flagstaff-area. In Southern Arizona, DFFM accomplished continual vegetation maintenance on the Babacomari Ranch in Santa Cruz County. That project included treating 2,617 acres of grass and brush to protect the communities of Sonoita and Elgin. The Babacomari Prescribed Fire project also provided for infrastructure protection and improvement of both grazing lands and wildlife habitats. DFFM also supported projects for Arizona State Parks and Trails with multiple pile burn operations at state parks, including Lost Dutchman, Tonto Natural Bridge, Picacho Peak, Dead Horse Ranch, and Roper Lake. State Parks staff conducted the initial fuels reduction work and DFFM provided the qualified fire resources to burn off the leftover debris piles.
“Annual prescribed fire opportunities are prioritized and planned with the foreknowledge that weather will determine actual implementation. This year the first six months was very productive for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s prescribed fire program. We had the ability to accomplish a large number of acres due to the ideal spring weather and burning conditions, along with the large-scale projects within the Pinyon-juniper vegetation. Prescribed fire managers proactively seek opportunities to offset and reduce wildfire impacts to Arizona’s communities and watersheds,” says Roy Hall, DFFM Prescribed Fire Manager.
Prescribed burn projects take months, sometimes years to design and implement. Project managers first develop prescribed fire plans then pre-burn prep work must be done. Prior to burning, hand crews cut fuel breaks around the project area to keep the fire within its intended boundaries. In some cases, project managers also rely on existing roadways, prior burn scars, and natural fire control features to serve as barriers to contain and hold the prescribed fire. Project managers must also rely heavily on weather and fuel conditions to safely conduct operations and meet project objectives. Operations works closely with the National Weather Service to ensure safe burning conditions exist prior to and during project implementation. Disadvantageous weather can postpone projects until safer and more favorable weather conditions prevail. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality must also review and approve all burn plans to reduce disruptions of air quality. Safety for fire personnel and the public is the number one priority during a prescribed burn.
Typically, the department treats between 3,500-7,500 acres annually. DFFM’s prescribed fire projects will resume over the next few months.