Fire Guy: Forest Is Facing Record Dryness

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Arizona is facing one of its driest years in recorded history, which greatly increases the wildfire danger.

A presentation from an Arizona celebrity -- retired Forest Service Ranger and voice of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire Jim Paxon -- highlighted the Payson Council meeting on Thursday.

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Paxon stressed the need for communities like Payson to practice Firewise prevention efforts in his half-hour slideshow, which featured pictures from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.

Paxon warned this year was the driest in modern history in Phoenix. He said the impending fire danger as a result is overwhelming.

"We're setting for a major fire season next year," he said. "I really feel like we've had two mild fire seasons (the last two years). We better get ready for Paxon said there are currently 44,000 communities -- such as Payson, Pine-Strawberry and Christopher Creek -- at risk for wildfires in the 17 Western states.

"We need the folks of every community in Arizona to redeem their responsibility," he said. "It comes down to personal responsibility."

Paxon said in addition to supporting forest officials in thinning efforts and prescribed burns, people can mechanically create defensible space on their property by cutting down trees and cleaning up the forest floor.

"We need to cut some of the too many trees," he said. "Let's get busy."

Paxon said his primary focus is on educating people about wildfire danger and the need for both Firewise prevention and forest thinning and restoration efforts.

"We're seeing fires that are unheralded," he said. "We interrupted the natural cycle of fires."

Paxon said the overcrowding and unhealthiness of today's forests is the major cause in the rise of catastrophic wildfires.

"We have too many straws in the punch bowl," he said of the incredible increase in the number of trees in the forest over the last century. Paxon showed a slide representing a one-acre area that had 24 trees on it in 1909. That same acre in 1990 had more than 700 trees on it.

"Do you see why we're having these mega-fires," he said.

Prior to Paxon's presentation, councilor Su Connell announced that Chaparral Pines became the fourth community in Payson to receive a Firewise designation.

"I congratulate the Rim Country on the number of Firewise communities you have," Paxon said.

Mayor Bob Edwards thanked Paxon for his time.

"You've given us a lot of food for thought," he said.

"We admire the work you did, you're still doing."

In other business, the council voted 6-0 to approve a lease for the hotel, conference center and restaurant on 10 acres in the Payson Rodeo Grounds, contingent upon the town receiving a complete yearly financial audit of the hotel and upon the resolution of a road placement entering the property.

The council directed the Payson Event Center Technical Advisory Committee to review the road dilemma and return a recommendation to the council by the end of January.

Developer Bruce Berres asked the council for "some expedition" in the process because the road placement could mean a redesign of the site plan.

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