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Wildfires have been raging in Arizona, ahead of last year’s schedule, and Pinal County is having a rougher year than normal due to the Telegraph Fire near Superior. The Legislature has been in session longer than average, and Gov. Doug Ducey decided to add a concurrent special session to deal with the fire issue. Despite conflict that occurred on the floor, it is a useful endeavor.

A package has been put together and passed to address the current situation, and part of it also is an investment to thin forest growth that is a big reason for problems in modern times. The overall package is $100 million, mostly for the current fire aftermath, including repairs and flooding. But about a fourth of the money is for wildfire mitigation in the form of 72 crews, with 10 prison inmates each, to remove overgrown vegetation, especially near communities. According to David Tenney, the state forester, that would mean a five-fold increase in the current capacity to clean up about 4,000 acres a year.

As we’ve said before, the inmate program is a win-win. Besides the fire prevention aspect, inmates can prepare for their release and becoming productive members of society, especially since it’s in an area that is in demand and that involves a high level of service to Arizonans.

Meanwhile, the legislative debate went off in tangents, but the majority was able to keep it on track. Some members pointed out that the issue is not climate change and its cause, but rather providing some funding that the state has available to prevent and recover from forest fires. A Sierra Club representative even said that the measure also should involve reducing vehicle emissions, but that is not the challenge here. Sen. T.J. Shope of Coolidge pointed out that fire danger has risen partially because of some regulations that have curbed activities of farmers and ranchers.

Rains may be on the way to help, but the drought has been long, with devastating effects. The state has the money, and there is no time like the present to make some available for fire prevention.

— Donovan Kramer Jr.

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