Northwest Maricopa County Braces For Wildfires

Published: Thursday, June 13, 2019 - 12:26pm
Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Residents of Wittmann listen to state fire officials on Wednesday night. The area saw five large fires — and many smaller ones — this spring.

Residents of Wittmann in northwest Maricopa County are nervous about wildfires after a rash of them this spring.

There were more than three dozen fires north and northwest of Phoenix over the course of March, April and May. Many of those have been on the smaller side, but in April and May, five fires in the Wickenburg and Wittmann areas burned in the hundreds and even thousands of acres.

At a meeting in Wittmann on Wednesday night, John Truett with the Department of Forestry and Fire Management basically said, ‘help us help you.’

“Helping us is you know, following the guidelines on the prevention,” Truett said. “Doing your due diligence on your clearance. Let us have a chance to get in there and defend your home.”

Fire officials want people living on flat, grassy or desert lots to clear brush up to 30 feet around their homes. But they also cautioned to not burn the brush. Rather, take it to a landfill or have someone pick it up.

You can find more fire prevention instructions here. Updated fire information is here. AZDFFM also encourages residents to follow the department on social media.

Lisa Chandler, a Wittmann resident for three years, said she has cleared her brush. A neighbor, however, has not. Chandler left her a couple of notes but did not get any response.

“Other than that, I don’t know what else to do,” she said, then considered offering again to help clear her neighbor’s brush.” “I don’t want our houses to burn because of someone else’s property.”

Fire officials said no one should be welding, setting off fireworks, or using charcoal grills. They also urged residents to call them with any signs of smoke.

About 80 residents turned out for the meeting, and many expressed concern that their less-conscientious neighbors do not heed the warnings.

“The problem is, people move out here because they want space,” said Cathy Rhudy, an 18-year resident. “They don’t realize when they wind up on an acre or more, it takes yard work. It takes effort.”

The rainy spring left the region with an abundance of grasses that could ignite. Fire officials say right now, everything is in alignment for fires: low moisture, long days, high heat and wind.

“The area’s expanding,” Truett said. “The whole state, except for the higher elevations, is basically ready to go.”

Recent weather predictions suggest monsoon season might be delayed a couple of weeks, which would remove a needed respite from the dry atmosphere. With monsoons comes dry lightning.

“Our fire season is going to extend,” Truett said. “Once we get [hit with] multiple storms with dry lightning out, then we basically have to start prioritizing what fire we’re actually going to go after. And some fires, we can’t even staff because we don’t have the personnel to go after them.”

He said at that point, emergency managers would meet to prioritize.

Chandler said at the outset of the evening there was a feeling that northwest Maricopa County was not getting enough attention from fire officials.

“But after tonight you have a better understanding. Resources are limited,” she said. “They have to kind of pick and choose sometimes which fires they go after. It makes more sense now.”

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