County Gets $125,000 Forest Fire Suppression Grant

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A $125,000 match has been lit under Gila County's efforts to fight fires.

The Forest Service, through the Cross Boundary Protection Pilot program, will disperse $1 million to about 10 localities to enhance fire suppression and collaboration in communities that work with the Forest Service.

The county applied for the grant on behalf of local fire departments, said Gene Blankenbaker, forest supervisor for Tonto National Forest.

"It truly is just a pilot to test the waters," Blankenbaker said. "If it proves to be successful, it may lead to a larger allocation of funding next year."

The money will go toward replacing water bladders and water tanks strategically placed around Gila County for fighting fires, additional training for fire districts, purchasing wild land fire equipment, and maintaining brush pits where residents can dump forest debris from their yards.

County Supervisor Tommie Martin, whose efforts Blankenbaker said were instrumental in receiving the grant, said she'd also like to find money for grass seed to plant in fire breaks.

The grant money has not yet been received, and Martin said a few logistics remain before it's in hand.

Gila County, according to Blankenbaker, fared well overall.

"They got 12 percent, so I'm guessing that was a little better than average," Blankenbaker said. "I don't think any other Arizona entities received any grants."

Each applicant had to prove their land abutted a national forest and that they participated in wildfire protection programs, among other requirements.

"Being the first time, it was a fairly general request," Blankenbaker said. Still, Gila County's good interagency relationships undoubtedly played a role in its success, he said.

At the year's end, the International Association of Fire Chiefs will evaluate the program from Washington, D.C. to examine how the money was spent and to track progress.

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