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Governor signs action plan to arm Arizona against wildfire threat

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PHOENIX – Conditions that created the largest wildfire in Arizona history are going to be back again this year, state officials said Wednesday.

With that in mind, Gov. Jan Brewer signed the State Forester’s Preparedness Plan assigning firefighting resources to high-risk areas.

“We can’t stop nature from running its course,” Brewer said at a news conference. “We can, however, be prepared to curb the potential for large, devastating fires like the Wallow.”

Heat, wind and low moisture helped the Wallow Fire burn through 538,000 acres in eastern Arizona last summer. In all, fires consumed nearly 900,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in Arizona during 2011.

State Forester Scott Hunt said Arizona’s outlook is helped somewhat by snowmelt produced by late-March storms and a forecast calling for lighter winds than during last year’s fire season.

However, Hunt said, many areas of the state, particularly those above 3,500 feet, are at risk. So are high grasslands in Cochise, Graham and Santa Cruz counties, he said.

“There’s a little more precipitation than last year but nothing substantial,” Hunt said.

He said fire agencies are preparing by thinning brush and trees around developed areas as well as cooperating to share resources at the local, state and federal levels.

“Wildfires cross a multitude of jurisdictions,” Hunt said. “We don’t think people care what color fire engine comes to fight. We just place whatever unit is closest to the fire.”

The biggest hope for preventing fires, he said, is educating the public.

Brewer noted that most wildfires are man-made, including the Wallow and Horseshoe 2, which burned through 223,000 acres of southeastern Arizona last summer.

“Be careful with fire,” she said. “Use common sense.”

Mike Iacona, chief of the Flagstaff Fire Department, said he’s cautious about the outlook in his area.

“It’s still very early to tell,” he said in a telephone interview. “We always go into spring with some trepidation because of higher temperatures, high winds and low moisture.”