Defending homes against wildfire

Defending homes against wildfire

21 March 2005

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PRESCOTT – Forest residents don’t have to turn their yards into a moonscape to defend them against wildfire.

That was a common theme at an Arizona Wildfire Academy class this week called “Wildland Fire Risk & Hazard Severity Assessment.”

“Developing a fire-wise neighborhood is as much of an art as it is a science,” said instructor Cliff Pearlberg of the State Land Department’s Fire Management Division as the class worked in the historic Iron Springs Club west of Prescott. “I want to change the character of the neighborhood as little as possible. People bought a home in this area for a reason.”

Other instructors as well as students agreed.

“There is a lot of emotion in this,” instructor Marty deMasi said. “There is a lot of vegetation, and they’re not used to seeing it the way it’s supposed to be.”

DeMasi is Payson’s fire chief, and he said wildfire issues there mirror Prescott’s.

Most of the instructors and students are in the fire business, attending the course to help create continuity in the way they assess how defensible other people’s homes are against wildfire.

The instructors settled on using National Fire Protection Association guidelines, which are widely available and easy to use, deMasi said.

Others, such as a Christopher Creek resident near Payson and the owner of a summer camp on Mingus Mountain near Prescott Valley, attended the class to learn how to defend their own properties against wildfire.

They came from as far away as New Hampshire, Virginia and Colorado. While vegetation in those areas is different, the principles of protection work in all types, said lead instructor Rich Van Demark, a local forester and member of the Prescott Area Wildland/Urban Interface Commission.

Student Meckenzie Helmandollar from the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension Office in Gila County cited the importance of maintaining defensible space by cutting back brush about every 18 months.

While she has previous experience in assessing neighborhood wildfire danger, she said she learned more about it during this week’s class, such as the importance of breaking up the continuity of brush and trees.

She really appreciated how much time the course spent in the field, Helmandollar added. Her previous courses in this issue spent most of their time in the classroom.

Helmandollar will use her newly gained information to help start up Firewise communities in Gila County. Firewise is a national program that encourages wildfire-defensible neighborhoods, and the first Firewise community in Arizona was the TimberRidge subdivision next to Prescott.

The class went to the Kingswood and Forest Trails subdivisions Monday, Granite Mountain summer homes Tuesday and Iron Springs summer homes Wednesday.

Instructors used real-life examples to give students the skills and tools to assess neighborhoods’ wildfire risks, and show them how to provide recommendations about how to reduce those risks, deMasi explained.


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