The huddled residents of Pine this week got a terrifying reminder of the danger that stalks all of the Rim Country.
So did the residents of Payson, although they probably didn’t notice.
In Pine, a man with a campfire touched off a blaze that spread quickly up Pine Canyon through thickets of dead snags, thick underbrush and logs downed by bark beetles.
Hot Shot crews working in the tangles of brush on dangerously thick slopes with the help of air tankers and helicopters kept the fire away from luxury home subdivisions.
But in truth, it was dumb luck. If the fire had started on the opposite side of the canyon, it might have burned into the subdivision as it moved up the canyon to the Rim.
Besides, it’s only April — after a wet winter.
That same fire in June might have gone on a rampage. The fire grew to only 60 acres and laid down overnight, as temperatures dropped. Unfortunately, high winds this afternoon could kick it up again — but so far it looks like it will burn away from the homes.
Meanwhile, Payson got its own little reminder yesterday that we’re heading into fire season — after a bone-dry spring. In a vacant, brush-choked lot across from the high school, someone went to some trouble to set the end of a log on fire.
The log lay on the ground in a tangle of brush on a big, sloped lot so choked with trees and brush that you could hardly see the bare ground. That brush ran right up against a group of apartments.
Mercifully, a passing citizen saw the smoke, grabbed the shovel in the back of his truck and kept the fire from spreading from the log to the adjacent brush. Someone also called the fire department as soon as they saw the smoke and crews arrived within three minutes.
More luck. That log fire could have gotten into the brush with another few minutes of untended burning. And the embers from the brush fire could have alighted on roofs hundreds of yards distant.
All of which explains why we’ve devoted so much time and space to the need to protect Rim communities from fire.
As the Dripping Springs Fire showed, even though the Forest Service has spent years thinning a buffer zone around Pine and Strawberry — the community remains vulnerable. The fuel breaks just give fire crews a fighting chance.
Unfortunately, living in a forest rendered fire prone by a century of bad management decisions requires constant vigilance.
That starts with obsessive care when it comes to campfires, smoking and any use of fire in the woods.
When it comes to campfires, that means keeping them small and contained — and both a shovel and water at hand. Break up, spread and douse any ashes and don’t leave the site until you can touch the embers. Don’t bury ashes and leave, since coals can smolder on for hours.
Meanwhile, the heedless idiots who drive along the highway and flick cigarettes out the window are criminally reckless with the lives of others. We hope you’ll make note of the license plate and report it.
Next, property owners in all the Rim communities must keep their properties cleared of brush and keep the trees thinned to a safe level.
Finally, we have to watch out for one another and follow the example of the citizen with the shovel and the people who called in the first tendrils of smoke in Payson.
So far on this round, our luck is holding. The Dripping Springs Fire is moving away from homes, although the rising winds could cause problems this afternoon. And quick-thinking citizens prevented the arson-caused fire in Payson from doing any damage.
But we can’t entrust the fate of our communities to luck and wind direction.
We’ll only avert eventual disaster as a result of wise forest management, the political will to continuing creating buffer zones, the reinvention of the timber industry — and the extreme care and vigilance of every one of us.