Prescott National Forest consists of 1.25 million acres and borders three other National Forests in Arizona: Kaibab, Coconino, and Tonto. Roughly half of the forest lies west of the city of Prescott, Arizona, in the Juniper, Santa Maria, Sierra Prieta, and Bradshaw Mountains. The other half of the Forest lies east of Prescott and takes in the Black Hills, Mingus Mountain, Black Mesa, and the headwaters of the Verde River.
At the lowest elevation, the primary vegetation is of the Sonoran Desert type. As the elevation rises, chaparral becomes common, followed by piñon pine and juniper. Above that, Ponderosa pine dominates the landscape.
The fire environment on the Prescott National Forest is characterized by multiple fuel types, steep terrain, poor ground access, and large areas of encroaching urban interface. The Forest averages approximately 90 fires annually and approximately 60% of these fires are caused by lightning. The primary goal of the Prescott National Forest fire program is to reduce the risk of wildfire and to reduce hazardous fuels throughout the wildland urban interface (WUI).
The different fuels on the Forest include: desert grasslands, perennial grasslands, chaparral, pinyon/juniper woodlands, ponderosa pine stands, and mixed conifer in higher elevations. In most areas these fuels have few natural or man-made breaks. The terrain is typically steep, with the exception being the flat pinyon/juniper area in the northern part of the Forest. Fuel arrangement allows for light, flashy fuels at the 3,000 foot elevation that change to chaparral and then pine at higher elevations, creating a continuous fuel loading which increases the chances for a major wildland fire.
Crown King, the Prescott Basin and the Verde Valley are three major wildland urban interface areas that can create extremely dangerous conditions in the event of a wildfire. There are also numerous smaller communities throughout the Forest that could be in jeopardy in the event of a fire in these areas. Coordination with local fire departments and the State of Arizona are crucial in these areas. The Forest borders state and private land to the northeast, the Tonto Forest to the southeast and BLM and state land to the south and west.
Weather on the forest is normally hot and dry, with fire danger rising rapidly once the spring green-up period is over. This usually occurs between mid and late May, with fire conditions worsening until the summer rains set in, usually around the first or second week of July. Though these summer rains, often referred to as "the monsoon season", bring much needed moisture to the Forest, they also bring a lot of lightning activity. This lightning activity usually causes multiple fires on Forest that, if adequate moisture is not received, can create suppression and management issues. Historically most Incident Management Team activations occur when these summer storms first arrive on Forest. Depending on the length and intensity of the summer storms, the Forest can also have a second fire season in September and October. Due to the great variations in fuel types and elevations on the Forest, annual weather events sometimes have different effects upon different parts of the Forest. As an example, a wet year typically leads to an above normal level of activity in the lower, desert country, while a dry trend tends to affect the mid and upper elevations where the heavier concentrations of fuel exist.