County’S Tanks, Bladders Helped Contain Recent Fires

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Gila County’s firefighting system of tanks and bladders ready for helicopters to dip in and then douse forests on fire helped to quickly contain the recent fire in Pine, officials say.

During the late April blaze, the pump that moves water from the bladder to the tank had too small a capacity, said Don Voakes, an engineer with the Pine Strawberry Fire District. So firefighters used their trucks to pump the water and refill the tank.

A helicopter returned to the tank about every eight minutes to refill with 2,600 gallons of water.

“I was pretty busy, but the water part was taken care of with the people that were there,” said Don Nunley, fire manager with the Payson Ranger District in the Tonto National Forest. No outside phone calls were necessary to find water to fight the spreading blaze.

Because crews collaborated, and because fire breaks protected the area, homes were saved from becoming ashy heaps.

“Four years ago, we would have been loading our dogs, our possessions, and we would be leaving,” to later return and survey the damage, Supervisor Tommie Martin said.

“This year, they sat on their deck with their dogs and, while they were concerned, they were not in the least bit a panic,” she added.

For the past four years, efforts to protect the county from catastrophic wildfire have intensified. Fire breaks help crews contain fires, and so does more collaboration.

At a recent meeting that drew fire department personnel from around the county, along with county, sheriff and Forest Service officials, the group discussed logistics that could potentially remain unknown until after disaster strikes — like new phone numbers, protocols and the size of attachments on trucks. Attachments must match so that any fire truck in the county can hook up to the tank and bladder system.

At a meeting after the fire season, they’ll gather again to debrief.

“When I started this five, four years ago,” said Supervisor Tommie Martin, “they didn’t even know each other’s names.”

The Forest Service is so pleased that Nunley presented Martin with a plaque Thursday in recognition of the collaboration.

Every person received an updated map of bladder and tank locations, and a list of phone numbers so those responsible for protecting the county from fire can contact each other quickly. They discussed “dry spots” in the county — areas ripe for new tanks or bladders.

It’s “just dozens of little details, and the devil’s in the details,” Martin said. “It really solves the ‘oh darns.’”

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