Fast Response From Firefighters Saves Pine

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As I prepare to send this in, it appears that Pine has dodged a bullet as the fire crews appear to have the Dripping Springs Fire under control.

Shortly after dawn on Monday, we saw a fire truck racing past our house. Since we live on an out of the way, dead end road, I thought that our neighbors might be having a health issue, but when I called, they told me they could see flames and smoke in the forest behind their house.

Everything in me hoped it was just a very large, (illegal) campfire, but before long, it began to spread and climb and crews of firefighters began gathering at various access points. I know that all of the chain saw noise and controlled burns can be a nuisance, but I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have this buffer zone around our communities. Last fall the crews worked daily on the very area that was threatened by this fire and their hard work appears to have paid off.

It seems that everyone in town is already aware of the culprit; however, I will simply say that a careless camper has once again put our community in grave danger. For some reason, folks just can’t seem to get it that one spark in a dry forest carpeted with volatile pine needles and cones can create an uncontrollable tempest in a matter of seconds.

I don’t know how much more “aware” you can make people since we have postings, signs, pamphlets and information available everywhere imaginable. This is an early warning sign and hopefully folks coming to visit our area will heed it.

I can’t say enough about the outstanding fire crews who worked non-stop to contain and control the blaze.

The helicopters dropped water repeatedly all day long, while several planes acted as spotters and others dropped flame retardant. A line of firefighters could be seen along the edge, their chain saws buzzing non-stop as they worked to keep the blaze from spreading even further. As dark descended, isolated blazes could be seen dotting the side of the mountain, along with the bright reassuring lights of the crew who undoubtedly wouldn’t be sleeping too much that night. We are so blessed to have these dedicated firefighters who work so hard to keep us safe. And while we go back to our routines, the crews will continue to work until the fire is out and no longer a danger.

Brush pickup

Before I had any idea we would be in the midst of our first fire of the season, I spent some time this week on the phone with Jerry Townsend who manages the brush removal program in our communities. There have been questions regarding the schedule and nature of the program, so I’d like to share with you some of the insights that I gained.

First of all, Jerry acknowledged that some frustration has arisen due to the fact that certain brush piles have not been removed in a timely manner. This is due to several factors — one being funding.

The brush pickup program is funded solely by grants, not property taxes as some folks believe. Although the number of folks using the brush removal continues to increase as more and more people hear about the service, they are currently budgeted for only about 32 hours per week.

In an effort to meet the growing demand for their services, about two years ago the decision was made to divide Pine and Strawberry into four sections each with the idea that the crew would pickup one section per day on a constantly rotating schedule.

They basically work one day in one area, then move on to the next area for a day, etc. Coupled with the pickup that they do in conjunction with the inmate crews, this puts them on about a three-week rotation. When there are large amounts of debris in a particular zone, they aren’t always able to pickup everything at once.

Due to an injury, Jerry has been out of commission since December, leaving the work crew short staffed (there are currently two employees handling the brush removal). Then we got all that heavy, wet snow a while back which further delayed their ability to do the pickup. Of course the massive snow accumulation snapped many branches off the oaks and junipers, creating an even greater amount of debris. Next, the bobcat broke down causing further delays. As you can see, the unending job of brush removal has become almost insurmountable due to a variety of reasons.

Tons hauled away

In spite of all of the troubles, the crew is well on its way to remove even more than the 565 tons that were hauled between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008. When you stop and think of the monumental task this crew is faced with, it gives a little bit better perspective of what they are up against and hopefully a little more grace for the folks who are trying to keep up with the ever increasing demands.

Jim recently decided that in an effort to clear certain areas with large quantities of brush, the crew will temporarily digress from their normal schedule and focus on those areas exclusively until they are completely cleared, even if it takes two or three days to complete. He hopes that in six to seven weeks the crew will be able to tackle the backlog and get back to the daily rotation schedule.

As I mentioned earlier, the entire brush removal program which began in 2005 is funded entirely by grants.

This program serves as a model for many other communities and fuels management officer, Capt. Mike Brandt who started it all, is constantly being asked to share his knowledge and expertise with towns who realize that Pine and Strawberry are setting the standard when it comes to fire wise safety practices.

However, in order to ensure that the program continues, it is essential for all those who utilize the service to do their part as well. When you stack your brush for removal, it’s extremely important that you fill out the essential paperwork necessary for documentation to justify the grants. There are three methods to obtain the paperwork: If you happen to be around when the truck comes by, you can get the paperwork directly from the crew. Otherwise you may call the Pine Fire Department’s administrative office at 476-4272 and request a form. Last, you can download the form from the fire department’s Web site, www.pine-strawberryfire.com.

Pet parade

Last Saturday’s Pet Parade turned out to be quite the event, with at least 20 or so pooches, several stuffed animals, and four adorable miniature horses in the lineup. The animals and owners all seemed to enjoy the spotlight as they pranced around the school and then over to the ramada where the Community Fun Day was getting started. It was a fun time and great way to kick off the warmer weather.

A rummage sale will take place May 2 under the new ramada in Pine from 8 a.m. until around 2 p.m. All proceeds from this annual event will go to benefit student activities at the Pine Strawberry Elementary School. Last year’s sale was a great success and the organizers expect this year to be even better.

Thursday, May 7 is the National Day of Prayer. The theme for this year’s event is “Prayer ... America’s Hope.” The scheduled events in our community include “Meet you at the Pole” at the Pine Strawberry Elementary School flagpole from 7:30 a.m. until 8 a.m. There will also be a gathering from 11 a.m. until noon at the Pine Community Center ramada.

May 9 is the first of the season, Second Saturday Shop Hop in Pine. This has become a favorite event of locals and visitors alike, as many shops offer refreshments, entertainment and very special discount prices. If you haven’t been to Pine lately, it’s the perfect opportunity to come up for the day.

The Friends of Pine Library are hosting a grand opening of the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library Gift Shop on Saturday, May 16 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The gift shop is located in the historic library, next to the Randall House Restaurant.

Antique tractor show

This is just one of several events taking place on May 16 including the first Antique Tractor Show in downtown Pine. Organizers Dave Fohr (928-476-3623) and Randy Ahrens (928-476-4151) expect at least 30 to 50 tractors from all over Arizona to be on view from 8 a.m. until around 3 p.m. They’ll be lined up all along Highway 87. There will be many awards given for various categories and this is shaping up to be quite a show.

May 16 is also the day of the ramada dedication. Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. there will be several speakers, fire safety demonstrations, food and fun for the whole community. With all the activities, it’s obvious that Pine is the place to be on Saturday, May 16!

Help celebrate National Book Week with fellow readers and Clifford the Big Red Dog at the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library in Pine beginning on Sunday, May 10. There will be activities throughout the entire week, including a visit by Clifford himself at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 16.

Congratulations to Melanie Brice who was the winner of the rocking chair and quilt raffle to benefit programs at the library.

Don’t forget that the Pine Strawberry Riff Raff Club is accepting donations for its annual garage sale. You can bring your good, usable items (they accept everything except clothing), to the Bishop Realty Storage Unit (unit 187) on the Old County Road in Pine every Saturday from noon until 4 p.m. If you have large items to donate, call Bruce Wicks at 476-2411.

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