Hellsgate Gets Grant To Reduce Fire Fuels

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With several wildland fires breaking out throughout the Rim Country in the last month, it may leave you wondering if your home could be protected if a fire started in your neighborhood.

For the vast majority of communities, the answer is no.

According to the 2004 Rim Country Community Wildfire Protection Plan (RCCWPP), much of the outlying communities in Payson and Star Valley are not defendable should a wildfire start.

This means homes in the area do not meet firewise requirements, the firefighting water supply could be improved, roadways could be widened and fuels have accumulated in the surrounding forest.

“However, the scale of the community protection task is enormous, considering that over 90 percent of the area is national forest, where the dangerous fuel buildup has occurred,” the report states.

“In short, these communities are surrounded by massive amounts of accumulated fuels which must be aggressively removed, and soon, if a catastrophe is to be averted.

Recently, however, Congress increased funding assistance to Arizona through USDA Forest Service, state and private forestry programs to mitigate fire risk in at-risk communities.

The Hellsgate Fire District was awarded a $421,000 grant to reduce hazardous fuels in four communities, including Thompson Draw 1 and 2, Diamond Point summer homes and Ellison Creek summer homes.

Crews will begin thinning approximately 160 acres of common areas in these communities shortly, said Hellsgate Captain John Wisner.

Thinning common areas creates an internal fuel break. If a fire broke out outside the community, it would be less likely to jump inside, he said.

The grant also allows property owners to thin their property at a reduced rate. Wisner estimates homeowners could expect to pay around $120 an acre for thinning.

“This could amount to an additional 100 acres of professionally thinned and treated acres,” he said.

“This grant will also allow Hellsgate Fire District to continue the very successful program of free brush hauling for district residents who clean up their property.”

For more information on the grant and when projects are expected to begin, call Battalion Chief Doug Blazer at (928) 474-3835.

In addition to thinning, Hellsgate recently received four 20,000- and 10,000-gallon water bladders, which will provide an additional water supply to Diamond Point, Tonto Village, Mead Ranch and Thompson Draw 2 communities.

“We placed the water bladders where this plan (the RCCWPP) said, Wisner said.

Wisner said the tanks should make a difference in turnaround time. When a water tender runs out of water, instead of having to drive 20 miles to refill, they can drive to the entrance of the community and fill up. Since each water tender can hold around 3,000 gallons, each tank should provide at least three refills.

Hellsgate received the tanks from the Payson Fire Department, who received 18 bladders from the Payson Police Department. Detective Matt Van Camp obtained the tanks through a military surplus program.

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