Wildland Fire

Fire Environment

The fire environment on the Prescott National Forest is characterized by multiple fuel types, steep terrain, poor ground access, and large areas of encroaching urban interface. The different fuels on the Forest include: desert grasslands, perennial grasslands, chaparral, pinyon/juniper woodlands, ponderosa pine stands, and mixed conifer at the higher elevations. In most areas of the Forest these fuels have few natural or man-made breaks. Terrain is typically steep, with the exception being the flat pinyon/juniper area in the northern part of the Forest. Fuel arrangement allows for light, flashy fuels at the 3,000 foot elevation that change to chaparral and then pine at higher elevations, creating a continuous fuel loading which increases the chances for a major wildland fire. Crown King, the Prescott Basin and the Verde Valley are three major wildland urban interface areas that create extremely dangerous conditions in the event of a wildfire. There are also numerous smaller communities throughout the Forest that are in jeopardy should fires occur in this area. Coordination with local fire departments and the State of Arizona are crucial in these areas. The Forest borders state and private land to the northeast, the Tonto Forest to the southeast and BLM and state land to the south and west. The Forest averages approximately 90 fires annually, with about 60 % of these caused by lightning.

Weather on the Forest is typically hot and dry, with fire danger rising rapidly once the spring greenup period is over. This usually occurs between mid and late May, with fire conditions worsening until the summer rains set in, usually around the first or second week of July. Though these summer rains, often referred to as "the monsoon," bring much needed moisture to the Forest, they also bring a great deal of lightning activity. This lightning activity usually causes multiple fires on Forest that, if adequate moisture is not received, can create suppression/management problems. Historically most Incident Management Team activations have occurred when these summer storms first arrive on Forest. Depending on the length and intensity of the summer storms, the Forest can also have a second fire season in September and October. Due to the great variations in fuel types and elevations on the Forest, annual weather events sometimes have different effects upon different parts of the Forest. As an example, a wet year typically leads to an above normal level of activity in the lower, desert country, while a dry trend tends to affect the mid and upper elevations where the heavier concentrations of fuel exist.

Forest Plan Direction

The Forest direction on Fire Management is based on National direction, utilizing the "least cost plus loss" practice. The Forest currently has two wilderness areas, Pine Mountain and Granite, that have fire plans. The intent of Forest management is to get the rest of the Forest under management plans as soon as possible.

Organizational and Budgetary Parameters

Forest staffing levels are determined by the National Fire Management Analysis (NFMAS) process. The current Fire Management Analysis identifies the following suppression units for the Forest at our Most Efficient Level (MEL) of funding: four Type 6 engines, two Type 3 engines, a Type 3 helicopter with rappel crew, ten fire prevention technicians, a coordination center, and six lookout towers. Additionally the Forest is home to the following national resources: the Prescott Hotshots, two heavy air tankers, a lead plane, a national Cache, and a Type 1 helicopter.

The Forest Coordination Center also serves as the Zone Coordination Center for the Central West Zone. Though the office is only responsible for initial attack activities on the Prescott, it will have additional duties in supporting the other agencies within the Central West Zone.

Weather information for the Forest is managed by the Coordination Center. The Forest has four automatic weather stations, Iron Springs, Crown King, Verde, and Cherry. There is also a satellite feed in the Coordination Center that provides twenty four hour, non-stop, weather information. The Coordination Center collects weather from the lookouts once daily, and broadcasts fire weather forecasts twice daily, usually around 1000 and 1600. Spot forecasts are available on request.

Within the Prescott Basin is located one of the most complex urban interface areas in the Southwest. The Forest has a strong working relationship with our cooperators in this area. Foremost of these cooperators are the Central Yavapai and City of Prescott Fire Departments. An Operating and Evacuation Plan has been formulated by the "Prescott Area Wildland Urban Interface Commission."

Forest Service policy requires that any air tanker operations in a congested area require a qualified Air Tanker Coordinator or a Lead Plane. In agreement with the interface cooperators, the Prescott National Forest has agreed to allow an air tanker to drop in the basin area without an Air Tanker Coordinator or lead plane with the following requirements:

  • A person qualified as a Division/Group Supervisor, or higher is on the scene and is the person making the order.
  • A lead plane has been ordered and en route.
  • The air tanker pilot is initial attack qualified, and is comfortable with the drop.

This agreement is in effect to facilitate rapid suppression actions, when necessary to possibly avert a major catastrophe in the interface but will NOT compromise the safety of the public or our employees.

Due to large areas of limited or no access, the Forest helicopter will be utilized early in the dispatch procedure if fire conditions warrant. This can occur at the discretion of the Coordination Center and/or the responding Duty Officer. Once on the incident, the helicopter will be utilized in an efficient manner until no longer needed by the incident, or when dispatched to a higher priority. It will be Forest policy to utilize the helicopter as an aerial platform for air attack or reconnaissance only until a more efficient fixed wing platform is available.