Reducing the Risk:  Communities, agencies band together as wildfire season approaches

Reducing the Risk: Communities, agencies band together as wildfire season approaches

19 April 2009

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USA — With six Prescott-area neighborhoods now recognized nationally as Firewise Communities, it’s possible that in the coming years most of the city’s inhabited spots in and around thePrescott National Forest will have significantly reduced the wildfire threat here.

At the annual Wildfire Expo on the Cortez Street side of the courthouse plaza Saturday, Prescott Area Wildland/Urban Interface Commission (PAWUIC) members shared their knowledge with residents about the dangers of wildfires and how to prevent them.

The Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program – a federal government-sponsored organization with 452 sites in 37 states, including 32 from Arizona – helps residents living on the wildland/urban interface create a defensible space around their properties to avoid the risk of losing their homes to forest fires.

A primary goal in all of this is that when a wildfire strikes, Firewise-approved homes and communities allow firefighters to concentrate more on battling blazes – which ultimately saves homes and lives.

“Basically, we live in an area that has lots of wildland fires every year, and it is the No. 1 threat to this community,” Prescott Fire Department Division Chief Duane Steinbrink said. “If we do not get any more moisture this spring, we’re probably looking at the middle of May to where we start having the fire season up here.”

Prescott Fire, Central Yavapai Fire District, Chino Valley Fire District and Prescott National Forest hot shot crews, among others, were on-hand Saturday to educate the public about their role during wildfire season while supporting residents’ efforts to assist them in limiting the danger.

Each year, Steinbrink said area firefighting agencies come together to prep for the season. Prescott firefighters go out into communities within city limits and assess the wildfire risk.

“We do a door-to-door campaign and look at the risk of each individual home in the Prescott area,” he said. “Right now we’ve got about 15,000 homes in Prescott and we’ve done about 6,500 assessments.”

PAWUIC has 60 regular members and maintains constant communication with area firefighters. The commission meets the first Thursday of every month at 7 a.m. in the Mackin Building at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds and invites the public to attend.

“PAWUIC started back in 1990 with just a few people and a mission to try and help make this community safer,” said Jerry Borgelt, vice chairman of PAWUIC. “The agencies are very well prepared, and it gets better every year in the communities.”

Firewise homeowners whose residences are in or next to forested areas follow 15 basic rules, which include, but are not limited to:

• Creating a 30-foot fire-free area around the perimeter of their homes to reduce ground fuels.

• Eliminating the buildup of pine needles and leaves from the base of their houses.

• Cleaning their gutters by removing leaves and debris.

• Trimming tree limbs hanging over their homes.

• Clearing trees and shrubs of dead material while keeping them pruned.

“Firewise does make my job easier,” Steinbrink said. “Cooperation is the biggest thing. We’re all there to help each other out.”

The Prescott-area subdivisions of Timber Ridge, Forest Trails, Groom Creek, Hidden Valley Ranch, Highland Pines and Foothills are Firewise members. Two others, including the Kingswood and Hassayampa Village subdivisions, are considering membership.

In the middle of May, grass-eating goats will help clear a 200-foot-wide firebreak on the west side of Highland Pines.

“We’re encouraging communities to organize into a Firewise committee and do project work,” said Wayne Hultberg, chairman of the Forest Trails Firewise Team, who distributed Firewise literature to the public.

“Each community develops a plan of what it wants to do and every year the plan is renewed. It’s an ongoing process. Education is one of the key parts of our activities.”

During the initial stages of their educational process, Firewise community candidates receive help from wildland fire staff at the federal, state or local level about ways to reduce the risk of wildfire in their neighborhoods.

From there, local wildland fire staff members guide residents in assessing particular risks where they live before piecing together a cooperative network of other homeowners, agencies and organizations.

Toward the end of the process, residents look to identify and implement solutions to increase their protection against wildfires while maintaining balance in the ecosystem.

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