Firewise in Arizona: Shining examples for wildfire safety

Blog Post created by laurenbackstrom Employee on Jun 20, 2013

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Observing mitigation behind the Howell home in TimberRidge, AZ


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Jerry Borgelt points out mitigation work to Hylton Haynes

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Display of Firewise community pride in Hidden Valley Ranch, AZ

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Bruce Carr discusses Yavapai Hills wildfire safety planning

The recent Doce Fire, just west of
Prescott in the Prescott National Forest, highlights the continued threat to
homes and property in Arizona and across much of the west including New Mexico,
California and Colorado.

In March of last year, Hylton Haynes, Faith Berry and Michele Steinberg visited with state forestry officials, fire department staff
and a number of community residents in Arizona to see all of the great
mitigation work going on there. Below is the blog post Michele wrote about
their trip and what they learned. We thought it was worth bringing this
information to the forefront once again. As Hylton aptly said during his time
there, “Prescott sets a “gold standard” for how a high-risk community can
organize and act to increase wildfire safety for all.” 


Last week, Hylton Haynes , Faith Berry and I visited with state forestry officials, fire department staff and a number of community residents in Arizona.  We were delighted to learn from State Forester Scott Hunt of his agency’s commitment to Firewise, with a push this year to gain at least 30 new recognized communities. We were invited to the Prescott Area WUI Commission (PAWUIC) meeting to observe an organized core committee in action. And, thanks to PAWUIC chairman and local resident Bruce Carr, we were given a whirlwind tour of individual communities in the Prescott area so that we could see the great work going on there.


Our tour began at the home of Shirley and Walt Howell in TimberRidge, the very first recognized Firewise Communities/USA site in the nation. We learned how residents are treating vegetation around their homes, reducing and removing potential fuel for wildfires. The Prescott area has a unique mix of trees and plants that defy typical “fuel modeling” analyses used to predict wildfire intensities. TimberRidge and many other subdivisions also feature homes nestled into this vegetation and built very close to one another. This means neighbors have overlapping “home ignition zones” and must work together to reduce common risks.


Prescott’s Fire Department is rare in its longtime establishment of a Wildland Fire Division .  Division Chief Darrell Willis, who has led Firewise and related efforts for more than a decade, explains the rationale for this emphasis. The City of Prescott has 18,100 structures in areas of high wildfire risk, with about 25,000 people inhabiting these structures, with an assessed value of more than $3 billion. Willis relies on code enforcement officer Ted Ralston and forester Todd Rhines to provide mitigation advice and services to residents. Willis, Ralston and Rhines participated in most of our visits to communities and were praised by property owners for their success in educating and assisting residents.


Outside the city limits, the Highland Pines property owners’ association has been long engaged in PAWUIC and has taken much of the mitigation on themselves. The community’s location in an unincorporated area of Yavapai County means that rules are less stringent and much work has to be done by persuasion and voluntary effort. Firewise committee chair Jerry Borgelt showed us around and told us about the monthly chipper days conducted from March to September.  State forestry has also contributed mitigation work in public lands bordering this area, and we were able to see a fuel mitigation project in action on the Prescott National Forest supported by the community.


Residents of Hidden Valley Ranch, a recognized Firewise Community since 2006, welcomed us to a meeting in their community center and provided details on the community’s history, development, and wildfire mitigation activities. Residents team with the Prescott Fire Department crew to provide “drive by” inspections of properties, resulting in an excellent compliance rate with community safety rules.  The community has successfully administered grants totaling more than $200,000 in the past two years from the state, the PAWUIC group, and the County . These funds have been used on a variety of projects, most notably a goat-grazing project in some of the more steep and hilly commonly-owned areas.  These projects have created jobs for qualified local contractors who have enjoyed additional work in the “off season” in Hidden Valley Ranch.

Yavapai Hills, where Bruce Carr has engaged residents to become Firewise over the past two years, is a large development that came about in phases. While there is a single homeowners association, there are dozen covenant documents guiding development in the different segments of the community. Firewise guidelines have been developed into the community’s lengthy and thorough architectural rules document. The HOA has also committed $20,000 of its own funds to support Firewise activities in the community.


Early on March 1, we attended the PAWUIC monthly meeting. It regularly brings together more than 40 stakeholders, including representatives of local Firewise communities, for a well-organized, tightly run agenda that serves to inform, coordinate and educate all parties. Our group was impressed with this organization, which came about in the 1990s to address the already well-known wildfire risks in the region. We shared some new products from the Firewise catalog and were able to meet and greet many participants.


Our group also had the opportunity to present to state and local officials at the Prescott City Council Chambers , where we discussed “what’s new” with Firewise, Prescott’s use of the IAFC “Ready, Set, Go!” program and our observations on the success of Prescott’s collaborative efforts to reduce wildfire risk.  As Hylton Haynes pointed out to the group, Prescott sets a “gold standard” for how a high-risk community can organize and act to increase wildfire safety for all.

--[Michele |]