County Frees Money For Fuel Breaks In Payson, Pine And Star Valley

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The Gila County Board of Supervisors pledged $150,000 in matching funds for local fuel break efforts at its regular meeting last week.

District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin says the county must do all it can to prepare for the upcoming fire season.

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Gary Roberts, Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer, stands in the fuel break that currently exists around the community of Pine. Gila County has contributed $50,000 to the community's effort to clean and clear it.

"We've had the driest, warmest year we've ever had, and this snowstorm doesn't make any difference," she said. "The Forest Service did a live fuel analysis in January and the live fuel had 60 percent moisture, which is what it should be in June.

"The February Fire was no surprise. Conditions in February were what they should be in June. The only saving grace was cold nights and that kind of stuff."

The February Fire, caused by an abandoned campfire, started Feb. 6 and consumed over 4,000 acres, six miles east of Pine and 10 miles north of Payson. At its peak, a total of 539 personnel were fighting the blaze.

The county money will go to three communities -- Payson, Pine and Star Valley -- with each receiving $50,000 in matching funds.

The Payson town council approved $50,000 for a fuel break on the town's southern and western boundaries on March 9, and the county will match that amount.

"It will be 100 yards wide and about 350 acres," Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi said. "We think it's going to cost somewhere in the area of $500 to $600 an acre, depending on the particular area, so it's going to take more than $50,000."

Pine will also receive $50,000 to supplement the $62,000 that community plans to spend cleaning its existing firebreak.

The town of Star Valley will receive the remaining $50,000.

"Star Valley is getting an effort going to clean their wildland fire break and the county will match them up to $50,000," Martin said.

While the still new town is waiting for operating money to start flowing, Martin said that some individuals in Star Valley might be willing to donate money, and Diamond Star Fire District labor can also be used to obtain matching funds.

But one problem all the communities need to guard against, the supervisor said, is placing too much faith in narrow fuel breaks.

While Pine, for example, has a fuel break around much of the community, it is only 150 to 200 feet wide.

"It's better than nothing, but it would not modify wildfire at this stage of the game," Martin said. "It's a good start, it's a great start, but it's just a start."

While Martin believes the state and federal governments should share the cost, she knows there is precious little time before a devastating fire season is upon us.

"So we're going to put $150,000 into Pine, Payson and Star Valley -- helping them help themselves," she said.

Other fire suppression initiatives the county has undertaken include:

  • Regular weekly meetings of all area fire chiefs and officials from local communities and emergency agencies to coordinate and standardize their efforts.

"We come together to talk about what we're not doing and what else needs to be done -- just doing the coordination as we go into the fire season," Martin said.

  • Beefing up the Sheriff's Posse to provide more personnel for severity and visibility patrols.

"As the forest opens and closes, we're bringing up that visibility and showing that people are paying attention," Martin said.

  • "From an urban land standpoint, we're organizing neighborhood cleanups where you can clean the brush out of your yard, bring it to a central location, and the county will haul it off and take it to the dump at no charge," Martin said.

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