In the unending battle against wildfire in the Rim Country, prevention is a key strategy employed by the Payson Ranger District to reduce the risk of catastrophe for communities such as Christopher Creek.
Payson District Fuels Specialist Don Nunley said that a focus on the Christopher Creek community is the next stage in fire prevention.
The plan, Nunley said, involves creating a fuel break surrounding Christopher Creek and Hunter Creek.
Nunley said crews hope to cut piles of dry vegetation on 329 acres in the fall, which they hope to be able to burn by spring of 2008. The burn will depend on weather conditions. The result will be a 330-foot fuel break around the entire Christopher Creek community and south, east and western ends of the Hunter Creek community.
To date, wildland firefighters have completed fuel breaks encompassing the communities of Star Valley and Pine/Strawberry. Fuel breaks on the southern end of Payson were completed in September 2006.
Another project involving the thinning and burning of 32,000 acres, that stretch from Doubtful Canyon on the east, to the Payson district boundary near the top of the Rim, is "in the works" sometime down the road, Nunley said.
These prevention projects will ensure less fuel and an area easier for firefighters to operate in, if a fire occurs. The projects also act as buffer zones, protecting homes and property in the communities that they surround.
Thinning forest areas of potential fuel for fires is a key concern of forest officials.
Gary Roberts, Payson Ranger District fire prevention officer, said the Payson district has more than 34,000 acres ready for thinning, more than 115,000 acres ready for prescribed burning and nearly 10,000 acres ready for maintenance on previous prescribed burns.
Often, the only obstacle that the ranger district faces is the financing for the projects, Roberts said.
Property owners in some communities including Pine/ Strawberry, Payson, East Verde Park and the Tonto Apache Tribe have actually raised money for the completion of fuel breaks, Roberts said.
"In 2006 alone, an astounding sum of nearly $335,000 [was] donated or contributed to help us accomplish our fuels reduction strategy," he said.
What you can do
Firefighters aren't the only line of defense against wildfire.
"A firefighter is not as important as a property owner, when it comes to protecting a house from wildfire," Roberts said. "The proactive action taken by [property owners] before a wildfire occurs, such as fire-resistant landscaping, is of paramount importance."
In addition to smart outdoor fire prevention, people can make simple changes to their homes and property, which can drastically decrease its susceptibility to wildfire.
Roberts said it's important to clear pine needles and other combustible debris from roofs.
Creating a defensible space by removing flammable brush, trees and vegetation for at least 30 feet between the house and vegetation is recommended, Roberts said.
Certain types of vegetation make excellent choices for wildfire-resistant landscaping, he said. Trees such as green ash, narrowleaf cottonwoods, willows and box elders will thrive in the elevation of many communities in the Rim Country and will burn with lower intensity than many others. Shrubs and groundcover plants can also be selected that may reduce the spread of wildfires.
Keeping trees pruned and healthy and removing low-hanging branches will help prevent a fire from climbing into the trees.
Roberts also said building materials and woodpiles should be located at least 30 feet from the home.
In the event of a wildfire in the area, proper signage and road access will aid firefighters in their defense of homes and property.
"People need to learn how to safely co-exist in a landscape that has been shaped by wildfire for centuries," Roberts said. "The best way to fight fire is before smoke is on the horizon."