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Mon, June 17

New fire ban starts as weather heats up

As Arizona enters its peak wildfire potential, the Coconino National Forest is enacting seasonal fire-use restrictions on most of the Red Rock Ranger District today.

Forecasters are calling for temperatures to rise and cascading humidity to drop as the work week progresses.

The new Coconino Forest restrictions generally match existing restrictions on the Prescott National Forest, as well as U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands and state trust lands in this region. Prescott and the Central Yavapai Fire District also have fire-use restrictions.

Yavapai County officials have been waiting for state legislation that county attorneys believe the county needs before it can enforce any fire-use restrictions on unincorporated private lands throughout the county.

The Legislature has now sent that legislation, Senate Bill 1238, to the governor. Sponsor Rep. Lucy Mason, R-Prescott, said Tuesday that she anticipates the governor will sign it. It would take effect immediately because it has an emergency clause.

Federal wildfire forecasters say the potential for significant wildfires is above normal this month for the southern half of the state, including the southern half of Yavapai County, while the potential is normal for the northern half of the state.

A dangerous 7-10-day burst of dry lightning is likely to precede the onset of the annual monsoon sometime before mid-July, the federal government's Southwest Area Wildland Fire Predictive Services forecasters said in their latest outlook on June 11.

They said the need for wildland firefighting resources in the Southwest should be above normal until the monsoon arrives, although that might last only a week or two in the higher-elevation pine forests.

Arizona temperatures already increased enough to prompt National Weather Service excessive heat warnings for the southwest part of the state Tuesday, when it hit 93 degrees at the Prescott airport and 111 at Phoenix's airport by late afternoon.

The Weather Service expects Prescott temperatures to climb to 97 degrees by Thursday and stay unseasonably hot all weekend.

And the federal government's wildfire forecasters are predicting single-digit humidity for the Prescott region during the remainder of this week.

They are forecasting a "critical burn environment" here Friday through Sunday.

The National Weather Service declared the "official" start of the annual monsoon Sunday, the first year that it has established a general monsoon time period of June 15 through Sept. 30 irregardless of actual weather conditions.

However, no signs of the monsoon have shown themselves in the Prescott region.

Bureau of Land Management Fire Information Officer Ken Palmrose noted in a press release Tuesday that some of Arizona's most devastating wildfires have ignited in late June.

Those fires included the largest fire in Arizona history, the 470,000-acre Rodeo-Chediski Fire that people first started on purpose on June 18, 2006; as well as the second largest, the Cave Creek Complex that torched 248,000 acres after lightning started it on June 21, 2005. Much of that fire burned in Yavapai County.

So far, no seasonal wind shift has occurred in this region to signal the coming of the monsoon.

The average monsoon start date in the past for the Prescott region has been about July 13, according to state climatology officials. And typically, dry lightning precedes the heavy rains that come with the monsoon.

At least one expert is forecasting an early start to the monsoon, with unusually powerful storms.

A government chart shows that historically similar La Niña years have produced above-average monsoon precipitation, too.

Federal climatologists are calling for above-average temperatures through August in most of Arizona, including Yavapai County.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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