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Grand Canyon urges residents to prepare for severe wildland fire season

May is National Wildland Fire Awareness Month and Grand Canyon urges residents to prepare for fire. (Adobe Stock)

May is National Wildland Fire Awareness Month and Grand Canyon urges residents to prepare for fire. (Adobe Stock)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — The month of May is National Wildland Fire Awareness Month and Grand Canyon and surrounding regions are preparing for what experts are calling a potentially “severe” fire season.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, which is the hub for national fire management programs, from Jan. 1 to April 29, 2021, there were about 17,405 wildfires, compared with 11,885 in the same period in 2020.

In 2020, about 10.1 million acres burned in the U.S., compared to 4.7 million acres in 2019, making 2020 one of the worst fire season in modern history, especially across the western states.

Grand Canyon urges residents to prepare

Brian Drapeaux, deputy superintendent at Grand Canyon, said with northern Arizona being in an exceptional drought and the weather becoming warmer and wildland vegetation drying out, it’s a good idea for all park residents to mitigate wildfire risk around their quarters.

“Remove all dead or dried plants, grass, pine needles, cones and leaves from our yards. If you have a wood pile be sure it is at least 30 feet from buildings. Remove any vegetation and items that can catch fire from under decks and away from windows. Create a separation between potted plants and items that may catch fire such as patio furniture, wood piles, and swing sets,” he said.

In the town of Tusayan, which is located approximately 1.5 miles from the south entrance of Grand Canyon’s South Rim, officials are concerned about the upcoming season.

Tusayan Fire District (TFD) Chief Greg Brush said recent high winds and a greater number of unattended fires in the area could spell danger for the community.

“I am extremely concerned about wildland danger, more so than any other year I think,” Brush said.

Brush also said recent controlled burning attempts in Tusayan by the U.S. Forest Service had to be put on hold because of higher than normal burning temperatures caused by the wind and the overall dryness of the vegetation.

Majority of Arizona facing extreme drought conditions

According to the Arizona State Climate Office, Arizona is currently in the 26th year of a long-term drought.

Currently, around 86 percent of the state is experiencing “D-3” conditions, or extreme drought.

Extreme drought is classified as the second-worst category of drought and corresponds to areas where major crop and pasture losses are common, fire risk is extreme, and widespread water shortages can be expected requiring restrictions, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

On May 7, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management will implement stage 1 fire restrictions in Navajo and Apache counties in northern Arizona.

The restrictions include prohibitions on campfires, fireworks, and other incendiary devices on state trust lands, Game and Fish Commission wildlife areas and state parks outside of incorporated municipalities, as well as Department of Transportation highways and right-of-ways not owned by federal land management agencies.

Additionally, The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is urging drivers to “use extra care” to reduce the chances of causing a wildfire.

According to ADOT, motorists should take preventative measures to reduce the risk of igniting vegetation from a spark from a vehicle or trailer.

ADOT suggests avoiding dragging chains when towing, and checking tire pressure before traveling, as tires with less air pressure can cause sparks.

Additional suggestions include avoiding parking on tall grass since the heat from the bottom of a vehicle can cause a fire.

Human activity cause of most wildland fires

Last year, the Magnum Fire in the Kaibab National Forest near the North Rim of Grand Canyon caused 71,450 acres to burn over the course of one month from June to July, which resulted in temporary closure of the park’s North Rim.

Officials have confirmed the Magnum Fire was caused by human activity.

According to the National Park Service, up to 85 percent of wildland fires are caused by human activity.

Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson, according to NPS.

Despite human activity causing the majority of wildland fires, the National Interagency Fire Center says that the public also plays a key role in fire prevention through education and mitigation efforts such as creating “defensible spaces” intended to slow the spread of embers in the event of a fire.

A list of resources is available via the National Interagency Fire Center’s website at www.nifc.gov/. More information about wildland fire resources is available at https://wildlandfire.az.gov.

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