Arizona’s Bush Fire spreads, now largest active fire burning in U.S.


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The Bush Fire, which has burned more than 64,500 acres in Tonto National Forest and is 0% contained, is currently the largest active fire in the U.S., according to data from the National Interagency Coordination Centre on Tuesday 16th June.

The wildfire started burning Saturday about 20 miles northeast of Mesa and is believed to have been caused by a vehicle fire, according to a statement from Mark Bernal, incident commander for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team.

“This fire is burning very heavy,” Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, told The Arizona Republic on Tuesday. “It’s running through dense fuels in the area, some of the reasons behind the smoke that we’re seeing.”

The Bush Fire is also very active at night and is visible from central areas of the state like Fountain Hills and Rio Verde, she said.

More than 400 fire personnel are currently fighting the Bush Fire as hot and dry weather is expected to continue this week in addition to wind up to 30 mph, according to a statement from Bernal.

The wildfire is the largest fire in Arizona this year, but it doesn’t compare to Arizona wildfires in recent years, such as the 2019 Woodbury Fire, which burned 123,800 acres in the Tonto National Forest, or the Yarnell Hill Fire, which only burned 8,400 acres but killed 19 firefighters and destroyed more than 100 structures in 2013.

In 2011, the Wallow Fire, the largest fire in the state’s history, burned more than 500,000 acres in eastern Arizona and led to the evacuation of multiple towns in the White Mountains area.

Though no structures have been damaged or destroyed, multiple communities have been evacuated and the Department of Forestry and Fire Management is ready to provide structure protection for those communities, Davila said.

“It’s hard to compare one fire to another — they’re so diverse,” she said. “It depends on the fuel, the landscape, the conditions, the weather.”

Other fires burning in Arizona are also some of the largest active fires in the country, according to NICC data. The Mangum Fire near the Grand Canyon’s north rim has burned nearly 30,000 acres and the Bighorn Fire in Tucson has burned around 15,000 acres as of Tuesday evening.

This year, more wildfires have occurred in Arizona than in 2019 partly due to more moisture over the last two years and an overgrowth of grass vegetation, said Davila. A combination of hotter temperatures in April, dry conditions and dry grass has also contributed to more fires this year.

“We’re seeing that actively when we have these fires in central Arizona,” she said. “They’re moving very rapidly, they’re spreading very fast and they’re starting quickly.”

States like Arizona and New Mexico are also in fire season, so it’s more likely for these states to have larger fires than some other western states, she added.

“We’re asking the public to please do their part, and pay attention to their surroundings,” Davila said. “We’ve got Stage II Fire restrictions in place, and there’s a reason.”

Stage II fire restrictions prohibit camp fires and any outdoor fire usage on all state-owned and managed lands in Arizona.

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