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A particularly strong El Nino winter has left the desert with lush vegetation and the onset of warmer weather signals the beginning of the drying that can turn that growth into fuel for wildfire.

As temperatures rise, the abundance of non-native grasses and weeds will dry out and potentially become a devastating fire.

It is difficult to assess the fire danger for any particular year, according to Fountain Hills Rural/Metro Assistant Fire Chief Jason Payne.

“In the desert hot weather dries out vegetation so it is a potential fire hazard year after year,” Payne said.

Rural/Metro Fire Department and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have seen what works and offer information on keeping wildfire away from homes. NFPA is the agency that developed the Firewise program that helps communities protect themselves from wildfire.

In Fountain Hills there are many homes that sit atop ridgelines abutting arroyos and washes with natural Sonoran Desert vegetation. Ridgetop homes can be vulnerable to fire that climbs hillsides quickly.

Now is the time to create a “defensible space” (at least 30 feet) around the home by pulling out weeds and removing other fire fuel. Buffel grass is the most prevalent of the non-native grasses that is highly flammable “flash fuel” and can quickly carry a fire onto residential property.

Rural/Metro Fire Department has some tips for creating a fire defensible area.

*Remove all dead, dry plants and weeds from within 30 feet of the home.

*Create the “defensible space” or firebreak around the home so firefighters can protect the structure from advancing flames.

*Be mindful of wild grasses, overgrown vegetation, and dry branches under the eaves and on the roof.

*Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves or debris that could catch flying embers.

*Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh no larger than one-eighth inch to prevent sparks from entering the home.

*Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors: mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles and firewood piles – anything that can burn.

*Be aware of weather conditions. Dry, windy weather contributes significantly to the spread of wildfire. Drought conditions accompanied by low humidity lead to dry vegetation that burns easily. Wind can cause wildfires to grow quickly or to change direction.

Payne said firefighters have begun gearing up their vehicles with wildland equipment in preparation for the season. Crews will also be out drilling to reacquaint themselves with specialty equipment and tactics used for brush fires.