When the rain hit the ground, Rim Country exhaled.
It seemed we had been holding our breath since February when the earliest wildfire on record loomed above the Beeline Highway with a thick column of smoke.
We braced ourselves for another terrible wildfire season. Our fears were stoked by recent memories of the Willow Fire, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire and even the distant Dude Fire.
We spent weeks in our yards, clearing brush and cutting down trees. Communities banded together to fund extensive firebreaks. Vacant lots were cleared by volunteers. Kohl's Ranch even won the prestigious national Firewise award for its residents' efforts.
Firefighters from all area agencies sent out patrols on the ground and in the air. Every time there was a fire, they were on scene immediately. Fires that could have turned into raging, devastating blazes were contained as fast as they started.
County supervisor Tommie Martin took our cause to Washington, D.C. and demanded money to clean up a mismanaged forest so we would not have to live in fear of it burning and consuming our homes and our lives.
In late July, with monsoon rains falling regularly, it feels as if the worst is behind us.
While we break for a momentary sigh of relief, we would like to thank the firefighters for all their hard work with fires and firebreaks. And we would take a moment to look around and smile at what each community was able to accomplish with its firebreaks and brush cleanups.
But now it's time to get back to work -- to redouble our efforts, because fire season is never over in this area.
While it feels we may have been spared this year, it is not time to rest on our temporary victory. We need to keep the momentum going.
For more information about what you can do to make your home fire safe or to get involved in area efforts, call the Gila County Sheriff's Office at (928) 474-2208 or (928) 425-4449, or the Payson Fire Department at 474-5154.