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Many Arizonans have been spending their days at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with offices and recreation opportunities closed. That is changing rapidly, and various sites are opening up for summer, with some modifications. Meanwhile, the usual summer wildland fire problems have started earlier, calling for extra caution.

The fire danger has been higher because of more rain than average over the winter, and an unusual preview of the monsoon season recently brought lightning that sparked some fires. That normally happens later in June, closer to the time when there is significant rainfall. Of course, human-caused fires are always a concern, and some have occurred this season. The total of acres burned by early this week was 75,000 in Arizona, compared to an average of 10,000 at the same time last year.

Some of the fires have been burning in or near Pinal County. The Sawtooth Fire in the Superstition Mountains, started by lightning, has been a serious problem and reached 24,500 acres before it was contained. Another fire near Canyon Lake, north of Apache Junction, started last weekend and was human-caused. Another lightning fire in the Pusch Ridge area near Oro Valley started Friday. And another fire was started by lightning in the Tortolita Mountains north of Oro Valley. A human-caused fire earlier burned eight homes in Cave Creek and caused hundreds of evacuations.

City of Maricopa Fire and Medical’s Brad Pitassi, a spokesman for a multi-agency team, summed up the situation well when he said, “It’s going to be a long, hot summer.”

Of 771 wildfires in Arizona this year, according to a recent report, 741 were human caused. That’s a lot of campfires out of control, unsecured tow chains and careless target shooting. Those living in or near the forest need to trim their vegetation as well.

Lightning cannot be prevented, but people in the outdoors certainly can avoid starting wildfires. We can hope for significant rain in the state sooner rather than later, but Arizonans need to do their part to avoid the danger and cost of fires.

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