Fire season could last into fall, experts say

Lack of monsoon moisture raises likelihood of lightning-ignited fires.
Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 5:16 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The fire season in Tucson could stretch all the way into October and beyond this year because of a lack of monsoon moisture, raid and humidity.

Generally the fire season will end in July or early August with the advent of the monsoon rains but that hasn’t happened this year.

“We’re in kind of a permanent June situation now just waiting for some kind of moisture,” said Michael Crimmins, a University of Arizona climatologist. “If we don’t get some rain in a big, widespread event, we’re going to have some trouble.”

That trouble would be in the form of fires.

“In a monsoon season where you have good precipitation, you get lightening strikes all over the place and they won’t do anything but strike a tree and go out,” he said. “But these lightening strikes are turning into 20-30 thousand acre fires pretty quickly.”

There are more than 600 fires in the Southwest and California right now, most caused by dry lightening.

“It’s just dry and crispy out there,” he said. “And that’s not normal for August.”

2019 was a dry year until September when 5″ of rain fell making it a normal monsoon.

2017 started out fairly wet and then dried out. There has been no consistency in the storm season in the past few years. Five of the past twenty years have been abnormally dry.

But this year, it has been so dry it’s affecting the fire season.

“If we don’t have a widespread very wet event, this could go right into October,” he said. “And then we would be waiting for the end of the fire season which could be ended by the Winter rains.”

Crimmins said that would be a very unusual event.

He also believes for the monsoon to catch up, it would need several big rains which could be a disaster for Tucson because of the Bighorn Fire which nearly denuded the mountain.

The county has already put together a flooding disaster plan if that happens.

“I’m not ready to say we’re in a permanent run of bad monsoons,” he said. “I just kind of want to shake this one off.”

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