FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - With wildfire season starting earlier and lasting longer in the state, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management said conferences like the second annual Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) and Firewise Summit are critical. The summit Wednesday and Thursday aimed to bring together firefighting professionals with communities to keep forests healthy and homes safe.

The director of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, Jeff Whitney, said wildfires threaten 45 percent of Arizona’s population.

“Nearly half of all Arizonans live under a fairly constant threat of having an unwanted wildfire come through their communities,” Whitney said.

Whitney drove this point home for dozens Wednesday at Arizona’s two-day WUI and Firewise Summit. Most attendees seemed to agree with the idea that those who live in the woods should find a way to keep flames away from their home and the forest healthy.

Shirley Howell, a grant writer for the Prescott Area Wildland-Urban Interface Commission (PAWUIC) said over her last seven years as a volunteer with the organization, she has seen a growth in the desire for a house next to the forest.

“They want the trees. They want the beautiful, lush green,” Howell said.

Howell said one challenge was teaching nature-seekers there was an honor system tied to life in the woods.

“There’s not a lot of enforcement, so it’s all about residents being willing to be knowledgeable,” Howell said.

Landscaping education for homeowners wasn’t the only hurdle adding fuel to the wildfire risk.

“Our fire season starts probably 30 to 40 days sooner and lasts probably 20 to 30 days longer,” Whitney said. “We've got vast acres of ponderosa pine forests that are very overstocked with small diameter trees.”

With longer fire seasons and lots of trees ready to burn, Whitney said it was up to Arizona’s WUI communities to be fire-wise so firefighters could hold up their end of the bargain safely and efficiently when duty calls.