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Mon, June 24

Fire danger could hit record level

PRESCOTT – A federal expert is warning that the Southwest's wildfire danger could reach a new record within the coming two weeks.

Bobby Shindelar, a fire behavior analyst with the federal interagency Southwest Area Predictive Services, e-mailed a wildland fire behavior alert to regional firefighting agencies June 9.

"It is anticipated that the Southwest Area will exceed the 2002 season conditions within the next two weeks, with the forecasted weather continuing to be hot and dry for the next 10 days," Shindelar wrote.

The Energy Release Component (ERC) reached an all-time high of 96 during the 2002 wildfire season, Shindelar noted.

The year 2002 "was the worst fire season on record in terms of conditions and fire activity for the Southwest Area," Shindelar wrote.

He predicts that the ERC could reach 97 or higher in the Southwest within the next two weeks. The ERC is a combination of statistics that wildland firefighters use to estimate the potential energy in the flaming front of a fire.

The ERC on the Prescott National Forest was at 93 on Friday, said Robert Morales, fire management officer for the forest.

"Longer range forecasts indicate that fire danger across Arizona and western New Mexico will remain critical and/or escalate further through the remainder of June," the June 11 fire outlook states on the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations Web site.

The Web site lists all of Arizona and western New Mexico as "critical" for wildfire danger.

The Prescott National Forest has banned all fire use outside of developed campgrounds and day-use areas that charge fees. It also has banned smoking outside vehicles and buildings. Prescott Forest officials recently clarified that smoking still is allowed in developed fee recreation areas, too.

The Yavapai County government instituted a similar fire ban throughout unincorporated areas.

A record ERC won't be enough in itself to increase local fire restrictions, Morales said. The Forest Service also considers how well people are obeying existing restrictions.

"Right now, all our prevention efforts are working real well," Morales said, citing a steady decrease in abandoned campfires. "We feel comfortable with the restrictions we have now."

Sparks from a construction backhoe in the Lynx Creek Estates just east of Prescott ignited a small wildfire Thursday morning, Morales said. Firefighters held it to a 20-foot by 20-foot area.

"So people need to be careful," he said. "Any little spark can start anything."

The Prescott National Forest has most of its ground resources on site, although its Hot Shots, large helicopter and two single-engine planes are helping to battle the 7,200-acre Three Forks Fire in eastern Arizona, Morales said.

"Recent fire activity has shown that fire behavior is advanced enough that aggressive initial attack with an abundance of resources is necessary," the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations outlook states.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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