Local residents can use interactive computer technology to create their own wildfire protection plan at a series of meetings throughout the Rim country through the end of the month.
In seeking a share of the $720 million dollars available each year through the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, the county is utilizing a landscape computer model developed by Northern Arizona University.
"Basically what Washington is saying is that if you want funding, you better take a landscape view and you better get your communities involved," Gila County Manager John Nelson said.
Attendees will be able to custom design a wildfire protection plan for their specific communities using a series of Geographical Information System maps that overlay one another.
"One has communities, one has roads, one has utility lines, one has habitats," Jean Schwennesen, one of the project's coordinators said. "You look at them and agree as a group that the information is correct. Then you put them together and play with them.
"What if you want the buffer area to be 1.5 miles on the downwind side? What happens to the spotted owl habitat? You give them different layers of importance, but obviously the protection of the communities is the critical thing."
The process tends to facilitate agreement, cooperation and action, according to Schwennesen. At a test-run meeting, held as part of a Houston Mesa Fire Department board meeting in Mesa del Caballo Wednesday, attendees were enthusiastic.
"(Houston Mesa Fire Chief) Chuck Jacobs didn't think people would come, but he was surprised," Schwennesen said. "He's starting to get excited about it, and so is (Payson Fire Chief) Marty deMasi."
Meetings are open to anyone.
For more information contact your local fire department or call (928) 472-3122.
Wildfire Protection Plan Meeting Schedule
Friday, Sept. 17 - Payson Public Library, 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 18 - Pine Cultural Center, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 18 - Christopher-Kohl's Firehouse, 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 18 - Whispering Pines Fire Dept.,5 p.m.-8 p.m.(Annual Fund-raiser BBQ)
Friday, Sept. 24 - Gisela Community Center, 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25 - Diamond Star Fire Dept., 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25 - Beaver Valley Fire Dept., 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25 - Tonto Village Chapel, 4 p.m.-6 p.m.