The sunny blue skies we've all enjoyed here for the past few months have become very ominous to those of us in the fire service. We could certainly use some dark gray storm clouds now. Cracks in the ground are widening and the oaks are turning brown. We are now into one of the driest winters in recorded history. The 100-hour fuel moisture, which is a measure of wood type vegetation between 3 inches and 4 inches, is now at 9 percent when it should normally be around 19 percent this time of year. These are readings that we should be seeing during the month of June.
As I write this, the relative humidity is 12 percent. Humidity readings below 25 percent indicate a high fire danger, and this is in the middle of winter. Relative humidity should not even be a concern this time of year. This is shaping up to be a very difficult fire season, with the possibility of breaking previous records. The time to prepare for the fire season is now.
Use these nice warm days to cut the brush away from your home, and to create a defensible space. When you do this, there are three zones to consider.
The first zone is your home or structure and the 30 feet all the way around it. That means cleaning up and disposing of anything that can ignite easily, such as pine needles on the roof, firewood, and piles of clutter or debris. Clean underneath your decks and remove any unneeded wood deck furniture.
The second zone is the area 30 to 70 feet away from your home. Remove all the ladder fuels, the material that can bring a fire from the ground up into the treetops, like dried brush, shrubs or low-hanging branches. Space your pine trees. Ponderosa should have 25 to 30 feet between them. I know that it is very hard for many of us who live in the forest to do, but we need to start by cutting out the sickly and thin trees, the ones you can see will never make a good tree, i.e. trees that are split, over crowded, dead, or with drooping tops. This will allow some space for the trees that you know you want to keep, and the benefit of what little water and nutrients there are.
The third zone is the area beyond 70 feet away from your home. In this area you can safely leave a little more vegetation. If you live within a community and have neighbors, you should always clean to at least the second zone.
We have the opportunity, with these sunny days, to do these things now. We can use this time to put more forethought into what we want our piece of the forest to look like and help it survive the effects of this drought. The five ways in which we can lose our trees are:
- Drought (We have no choice which trees go or stay)
- Insects (We have no choice which trees go or stay)
- Disease (We have no choice which trees go or stay)
- Fire (We have no choice which trees go or stay)
- Mechanical (We have some choice in which stay or go. This doesn't mean that the top four things can't happen to us, but it does hedge our bet).
In Pine and Strawberry we have a crew working on reducing fuel, through Arizona State Land Department. This crew is available as a result of the 2005 Wildfire Urban Interface Grant. We hope to get this grant again in 2006, but with all the national disasters we have had in the past year, the funding is not guaranteed.
We also have an ongoing brush pick-up service in Pine and Strawberry for private homeowners. If you clear around your home and/or property, just pile the brush by the road so that we can get at it, and we'll pick it up for you. Call (928) 476-4272 during normal business hours and request a pick up. And, of course, the best thing that we all have going for us in this area is RPAP with their brush pits, which allow us to haul our debris to one of their locations free of charge. The pit on Control Road, south of Pine, is open on Sundays. Call your local fire department for other locations and times.
There is also a company from Texas interested in harvesting manzanita wood. It will cut and haul manzanita away free of charge in the Pine/Strawberry area, allowing you to get some of those dense stands reduced and save yourself some money and a lot of work. For more information on this, contact the company directly, at (979) 406-0037.
These are things that we should all be thinking about and working on now, while we have the time and opportunity. Being aware and prepared in advance for the possibility of wildfire is the only way to mitigate the potentially devastating effects of it. If you're trying to create defensible space in the path of a fire, it's already too late.