Pop quiz: What’s the biggest danger to Payson, Star Valley, Pine and Strawberry? Photo radar? Hardly. Meth-heads? Not even close. Earthquakes? Locusts? Plague?
Nope. Nope. Nope.
Alas — it’s so obvious: A pillar of fire.
Only an out-of-control forest fire roaring out of the overgrown thickets of trees surrounding our communities could destroy all we’ve built. By almost any measure, Rim Country remains among the most fire-menaced places in the nation.
So why have Payson, Star Valley and Gila County steadfastly refused to adopt the nation’s toughest fire codes for new construction? By contrast, Prescott and Flagstaff have both adopted the wildland urban interface (WUI) fire codes. Those standards require the use of fire-resistant materials for vulnerable areas like roofs and eves. Those standards also require builders to clear a defensible space around any new building.
Today’s Roundup details the sorry state of building codes in Gila County when it comes to preventing a wildfire from destroying a large chunk of town.
We’ve celebrated in this space the great progress the Forest Service has made in thinning the dangerously crowded forest on the edges of our communities. That’s the first, most critical step.
But that’s not enough — not nearly.
We’ve been lucky these past two summers, with the drought backing off and with well-timed rains dampening the normally frightening May-June period of peak fire danger. So instead of fire crews evacuating town in the face of a crown fire roaring through treetops faster than a man can run, we’ve seen firefighters letting lightning-caused fires ramble through thousands of brush-choked acres.
Alas — that good fortune may have just fueled our deadly complacency.
In fact, we hope the governments of Rim Country will now implement the nation’s most comprehensive fire codes. We should draft and adopt those codes so they’re in place when the recovery finally announces itself with the pitter-patter of plot plans.
Of course, we could also just wait for disaster to rain down on all those wood shingle roofs. Then we can stare foolishly at one another and wonder — uselessly — how we could have been so stupid to have done nothing for so long.