Worst fire season in state history slowing down
PHOENIX This year's fire season has been the worst in state history, and fire agencies warn that while blazes are slowing down, the season isn't over yet.
Wildfires have scorched at least 696,921 acres so far this year, surpassing the 629,876 acres that burned in 2002, the year of the largest wildland blaze in state history, the Rodeo-Chediski fire.
The 2005 figure is also more than three times the 219,403 acres that burned in 2004, according to figures from the Southwest Coordination Center. But this year's acreage could still grow.
Since the start of the monsoon season last month means increased moisture in the air, the few fires that do start probably won't grow very large, said Jim Payne, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
However, the monsoons don't mean an abrupt end to the fire season, said meteorologist Chuck Maxwell.
"It definitely winds down, but it may be days, weeks, whatever," Maxwell said.
Arizona has seen a wet past couple of weeks, but forecasts indicate hot, dry stretches ahead, Maxwell said.
As soon as the relative humidity drops, the fire danger will increase again.
While acreage figures have been high this year, relatively few homes have been lost.
Exact figures haven't been compiled yet, but "well under 50" structures have burned, said Judy Wood, a fire information officer for the state forest service.
The 248,310-acre Cave Creek complex fire destroyed the most structures this year, burning 11 homes and three storage sheds. By comparison, the Rodeo-Chediski fire burned about 465 homes, and 2003's Aspen fire destroyed about 320 homes and cabins.
Most fires have stayed away from residential areas, said Don Van Driel, the Tonto National Forest's group leader for fire engineering and safety
As the fire season winds down, some rehabilitation has already started, said Penny Luehring, who is coordinating rehabilitation efforts in Arizona and New Mexico's national forests.,