Long-term antecedent climate conditions are often overlooked as important drivers of wildfire variability. Fuel moisture levels and fine-fuel productivity are controlled by variability in precipitation and temperature at long timescales (months to years) before wildfire events. This study examines relationships between wildfire statistics (total area burned and total number of fires) aggregated for south-eastern Arizona and antecedent climate conditions relative to 29 fire seasons (April-May-June) between 1973 and 2001. High and low elevation fires were examined separately to determine the influence of climate variability on dominant fuel types (low elevation grasslands with fine fuels v. high elevation forests with heavy fuels). Positive correlations between lagged precipitation and total area burned highlight the importance of climate in regulating fine fuel production for both high and low elevation fires. Surprisingly, no significant negative correlations between precipitation and seasonal wildfire statistics were found at any seasonal lag. Drought conditions were not associated with higher area burned or a greater number of fires. Larger low elevation fires were actually associated with wet antecedent conditions until just before the fire season. Larger high elevation fires were associated with wet conditions during seasons up to 3 years before the fire season.
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