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PHOENIX -- Recent warm weather, dry conditions and a spate of brush fires on the outskirts of major cities in Arizona and New Mexico are prompting warnings that the 2014 wildfire season is already underway.

In the Albuquerque area, Lt. Michael Everett of the Bernalillo County Fire Department said fire conditions are already dangerous because there's been little rain or snow. ``It is starting early, and everybody needs to be aware, just be very careful,'' Everett said.

In Arizona desert areas, Rural/Metro Fire Department spokesman Colin Williams said conditions are more like those typically seen in May, not February.

In fact, conditions in some places on the outskirts of the Phoenix area resemble the brush-choked area in western Yavapai County where 19 firefighters perished last year in the Yarnell Hill Fire, Williams said. ``There's a lot of fuel,'' he said.

Williams said a human-caused brush fire near Saguaro Lake on the Phoenix area's eastern outskirts on Monday was troubling.

``I was surprised about how hot it burned, how fast it moved, and how intense it was,'' Williams said.

The flames jumped part of the Salt River in one spot, which is flowing at a much lower level than normal, also because of the drought.

A brush fire in Belen, south of Albuquerque, was the fourth wildfire reported in the area in two days. The fire burned a shed and several acres of grass.

There's also concern in timber country in higher elevations where lower than normal precipitation levels have left forests vulnerable.

``Due to the unseasonably warm and dry weather during this winter, fire danger is very high and people should exercise extreme caution with smoking materials and campfires,'' the Flagstaff Fire Department said in a news release about a fire that started in a transient camp in a wooded area.

Everett said his crew takes every smoke call it gets seriously and that the fire season could be a long one. ``It is going to get worse before it gets better,'' he said.

The National Weather Service said temperatures in much of Arizona will dip closer to seasonal norms by Thursday but that dry conditions will remain.

In New Mexico, forecasters said ``critical fire weather conditions'' will likely return late Wednesday to areas without significant snowpack.

Associated Press,

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