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New plan seeks unified way to reduce wildfire danger locally

28 November 2004
published by The Daily Courier


PRESCOTT – Fire agencies and volunteers have produced a draft Yavapai Community Wildfire Protection Plan that will be a critical tool for protecting the Prescott region from catastrophic wildfire and obtaining federal money to do it.

The federal 2003 Healthy Forest Restoration Act requires communities to create such plans by the end of 2004 in order to get federal grant money to reduce wildfire hazards. Courier file photo/Les Stukenberg

Jesse Steed of the Prescott Hot Shots lays down fire with a drip torch Sept. 25 as other members of the burn crew walk along the fire line looking for hot spots on the Bean Peak prescribed burn south of Prescott. The new Yavapai Community Wildfire Protection Plan will help prioritize future projects to reduce wildfire danger throughout the region.

To meet that federal mandate, the Prescott Area Wildland/Urban Interface Commission (PAWUIC) is documenting extensive previous work as well as organizing how to tackle the most hazardous areas in the future.

PAWUIC will take the draft plan to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 6 and the Prescott City Council Dec. 7 to seek endorsements. The nonprofit group also will ask 13 fire districts to sign off on the plan, plus seek letters of support from federal and state agencies.

The plan confirms in writing just how much work local, state and federal agencies already have completed, especially through their cooperation in PAWUIC.

State Forester Kirk Rowdabaugh praised PAWUIC’s efforts.

“Prescott has got a jump on the rest of the state, and I think the country, by a good five years,” Rowdabaugh said. “Prescott, rightly so, can be very proud of its forward-looking endeavors to recognize the (wildfire danger) problem” and seek to reduce it.

PAUWUIC Vice Chair Ken Iversen agreed.

“Prescott is now on the map for the work we’re doing on the urban interface, economic development and education,” Iversen agreed.

Iversen, a business and forest consultant, is part of a four-person PAWUIC subcommittee that has been working on the Yavapai Community Wildfire Protection Plan since May, with the help of a $15,000 U.S. Forest Service grant.

Other team members are Nick Angiolillo, Yavapai County’s emergency management coordinator; Rich Van Demark, a private forester; and Carolyn Ladner, Yavapai County Assessor’s Office administrative aide.

They have produced an 80-page draft plan with 200 pages of maps and localized fire hazard assessments that will guide efforts to reduce wildfire hazards throughout the years to come. The Yavapai County Geographic Information Systems Department and Assessor’s Office have helped create all of the detailed maps.

Unlike some other regions in Arizona, they didn’t hire a contractor to help.

“We didn’t want the document to be theoretical or academic,” Angiolillo said.

One of the first team tasks was to figure out what area to include in the plan, with the help of fire managers.

Prescott, Walker and Crown King are on the federal government’s list of communities at risk of catastrophic wildfire because of unnaturally dense pine forest conditions and a drought that led to millions of dead trees from a devastating bark beetle epidemic.

But the group decided it also needed to include surrounding areas, since wildfires there can quickly spread into more dangerous areas.

They came up with a 963,575-acre region that includes more than 100 communities, neighborhoods and summer camps with an assessed value of more than $6.6 billion.

A key component of the plan is the effort to assess the fire danger in each one of these communities, neighborhoods and summer camps.

The standardized wildland fire risk assessment forms consider vehicular access, vegetation types, topography, building materials, water availability, vicinity of fire stations, and utility placement to conclude whether an area has a low, moderate, high or extreme wildfire hazard.

Local fire departments are about 75 percent finished with the detailed assessments and they should be finished by February, Ladner said. Already, 29 communities, neighborhoods and camps are listed in the “extreme” fire hazard category.

“They are a vehicle to educate home owners on what they can do to mitigate fire danger,” Van Demark said of the assessments. Some fire departments already are generating letters for property owners based on the assessments, Iversen noted.

Ultimately, fire managers will use the assessments to jointly prioritize areas that need wildfire prevention treatments so they can focus their work and money-raising efforts on the most dangerous areas first, Iversen said.

Another key component is the effort to get the community involved in the plan.

PAWUIC plans to run a three-page home owner questionnaire in The Daily Courier, as well as offer presentations to various home owner and summer camp groups.

Citizens also can review and comment on the plan by accessing the PAWUIC-sponsored Web site at www.regionalinfo-alert.org.


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