Town, Forest Service Join Forces On Urban Fires

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The Payson Fire Department has joined forces with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure a catastrophic fire never threatens Payson.

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Payson fire crews extinguish the flames that destroyed this camper trailer within yards of neighboring homes on West Nicklaus Drive Wednesday. Two neighbors used garden hoses to fight the blaze until firefighters arrived. A juvenile was home alone when the fire started.

The cooperative effort between the two hinges on first-alarm calls that are now received by both agencies.

When the Payson Fire Department responds to a fire emergency, teams from the Payson Ranger District are also immediately dispatched.

According to Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi, the Forest Service crews are on the scene for "fire brand" duties.

"They check out the area to see there are no split fires," he said.

The joint effort allows the fire department to concentrate on the immediate emergency and the Forest Service the chance to ensure the blaze has not created any off-shoot fires.

"We send what resources are available," Payson District Ranger Ed Armenta said. "It can be engine crews or maybe Hot Shots."

The cooperation of the fire department and Forest Service turned evident at two recent fires.

Both agencies responded to a fire May 31 on south Oak Street near Julia Randall Elementary School and another June 2 that totally destroyed a camper trailer parked on the 2600 block of West Nicklaus Drive.

The first to arrive at the camper fire was battalion chief Guy Austin.

"When we arrived, we found two neighbors using garden hoses on the camper trailer," Austin said.

Although the fire department does not recommend untrained residents fighting fires, Austin praised the two neighbors.

"They did a good job of knocking it down," he said.

The neighbors were Barbara Sattersfield and Duke Wilbanks.

"I heard the dog barking and saw smoke so I ran down the street to where the fire was," Wilbanks said. "I saw the trailer in the back yard on fire and jerked the propane tanks off of it."

As soon as the tanks were removed, Wilbanks turned firefighter.

"I got a hose from the front of the house and took it around the back and hooked it up," he said. "Pretty soon the lady came to help and somebody brought another hose that she used."

Engine 111, the first at the fire scene, was later joined by two other fire engines and a Forest Service crew.

According to Austin, the fire might have been started by a juvenile.

"I know there was a juvenile male home alone," he said. "He was outside the camper playing around when it started."

The cause of the blaze is being investigated by Payson Fire Marshall Mike Winters.

If Winters' investigation uncovers criminal intent, he will turn the case over to the Payson Police Department.

Like the trailer fire, Austin was the first to respond to the blaze on Oak Street.

"We know two juveniles were seen running from the scene," Austin said.

Four engines fought the fire that totally destroyed a 500-square-foot building and engulfed a lot strewn with weeds, bushes and debris.

"It was one of the older buildings in town," Austin said.

Both deMasi and Armenta agree that as long as the current fire conditions continue, the Forest Service and fire department will continue to battle urban interface fires alongside one another.

"We don't worry about jurisdictional lines when something like that happens," Armenta said.

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