You don't have to be a rocket scientist or even a firefighter to know that the danger of wildfires is going to be extreme this summer, and that's always a major concern to Rim country residents.
Unless precipitation patterns change dramatically and with the likely onset of another El Nithat's not impossible the Rim country could be facing a worse fire season than the summer of 1990 when the lightning-caused Dude Fire devastated the area. In fact, Payson Fire Marshal Jack Babb says the "extreme" fire hazard designation has already been in place for more than two weeks.
Effective March 20, the Payson Fire Department will also cease issuing burn permits and will cancel any outstanding permits.
"Burn permits will not be issued until sufficient rain and/or snow has fallen to reduce the threat of an open burning becoming a wildland fire," Babb said. "We also recommend that all residents contact their local fire department to determine if burn permits have been canceled in their areas."
The Dude Fire proved that wildfires can and do happen in our own backyard. When the smoke had cleared from that conflagration, six lives, some 65 homes, and almost 27,000 acres of Rim country land had been claimed.
Living in a wildland/urban interface area an area where homes and other structures are built and/or occupied in the forested areas of the surrounding country Rim country homes are particularly vulnerable to wildfires. But there are some common sense steps you can take to protect your home.
Here are some recommended by the Payson Fire Department:
Keep ground litter, debris and other combustible materials (like firewood) cleaned up and stored neatly away from important buildings.
Keep lower limbs and branches trimmed up and away from the ground. These are commonly called ladder fuels and would allow a ground fire to climb into the treetops, making control and extinguishment difficult.
A defensible space around important structures, LP (propane) tanks and well sites is important. A defensible space is described as an area 30 feet from buildings and other important structures that is free of readily ignitable fuels, but not necessarily clear-cut. Propane tanks should be at least 10 feet from your home, and it is also recommended that grasses, weeds and other small vegetation be trimmed or removed to a distance of 10 feet from the tank. Depending on the location of your tank, you may want to ask your neighbor to make sure vegetation on his property is also trimmed at least 10 feet from your tank.
Many people store items such as boats, second or third vehicles and construction materials in their yards. These items also constitute added fuel load and should be kept away from homes.
Vegetation that is kept green and nurtured is important to homeowners, but the fire department recommends that frequent breaks be kept in the landscape to slow the progress of a ground fire. Trees and shrubs should be kept trimmed with all dead materials removed.
Keep roofs free of litter and pine needles. This is an excellent source of fuels for wildland fire embers to move from the forested area into adjacent or nearby residential communities.
Make sure your address is visible from or located on the street for faster response to your home. A prominently posted address or lot number will help firefighters, law enforcement agencies, and medical personnel find your home faster during an emergency. Address or lot numbers should be posted at the beginning of the driveway on the road, at each driveway split and on the house.
Keep driveways accessible to fire apparatus. The width of your driveway should be sufficient to allow free movement of two vehicles past each other to facilitate firefighting efforts and evacuation.
On older houses, siding and roofs may have continued to dry, making them extremely susceptible to fire, especially when exposed to the radiant heat and fire brands of an oncoming fire. Replacing wood shingles and shakes with fire resistant shingles may be the only way to decrease the threat of fire spreading to your home. Check with various building centers to find out if any after-market applications are available to make your house more fire-resistant.
Openings can cause a fire to spread in a home much more quickly. Stray embers float during a wildfire and can filter into the openings causing a possible fire inside the home.
If you are facing an approaching wildland fire, it's a good idea to board up attic vents, eaves sofits, and dryer vents, and to keep windows and doors closed.
If you need to evacuate your home because of an impending wildfire, firefighters ask that you leave it closed and unlocked. In case a fire overruns them, firefighters may need to take refuge in your house until the fire bypasses them.
Devastating wildfires have happened in the Rim country before, and they will most certainly happen again. With conditions so dry going into this summer wildfire season, it just makes good sense to take as many of the above precautions as possible.
Talk with your neighbors to discuss what you can do together, and if you have further questions contact your fire department for answers or an evaluation of your property.