Coronado National Forest Fire Manager Kristy Lund says she's never seen conditions in the forest more ripe for serious wildfires.
A veteran of fire management in multiple parks, Lund is no stranger to the droughts and wildfires that plague the West. But she notes that the "probability of ignition," or how easy it is for minor sparks to cause flames, is at historic highs in Arizona. As summer starts and the season of lightning and rain begins, the risks run even higher.
"With no rain coming with that dry lightning, virtually every strike will start [a fire]," says Lund. "And at the rate we've seen the fire growth, it truly is unprecedented."
Her colleagues, some of whom have spent decades in the Catalina Mountains, agree the danger is extraordinarily high. Even higher, they say, than in 2002, the year of Rodeo-Chediski, Arizona's largest-ever wildfire.
Fueled by dry conditions and gusting winds, this year's fires are also burning more aggressively than those in past years.
There's historical evidence to suggest that this region once sustained wildfires of more than a million acres in size. Lund admits there's nothing to stop such mega-fires from happening again, potentially burning most or all of Arizona's timberlands.
At another time, in another year, she might have offered a guess at what might stop such a mega-fire -- but not this year, she said.
"There's just nothing outside the realm of possibility right now," she said. "I'm tired of guessing and being proven wrong."
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