Not An Act Of God, Just Official Stupidity

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Back in 1993, a brush fire rushed out of the California chaparral and consumed 400 homes in posh Laguna Beach. The flames tore through thick brush, leaping 50 feet in the air and generating temperatures of 2,000 degrees.

In one neighborhood, the flames consumed every single house — except one.

The media took to calling To Bui Bender’s home the “miracle house.”

But in truth, there was nothing miraculous about it. Bui, an engineer, had simply fireproofed his house.

He did mostly simple things — cement roofing tiles, extra thick stucco, fewer vents all with spark-blocking screens on the attic, no overhanging eaves, a wall under the porch, a fire-resistant coating on the porch deck, thicker walls and thicker insulation.

So as the flames set off every other house on the block, they flashed over Bui’s house and moved on — denied the easy access into the attic, under eaves, through the roof.

Now, such simple, life-saving adjustments have been incorporated into national “firewise” building codes intended for the 65,000 communities in this country adjacent to wildlands that can generate lethal firestorms.

Flagstaff, Prescott and Sedona have all adopted such a Wildlands/Urban Interface (WUI) code.

Not Payson — nor Star Valley, nor Gila County.

Fortunately, Payson is ready to start hearings on the adoption of such a code, which may one day prevent wholesale destruction and tragic loss of life.

In today’s Roundup, you’ll find a special publication prepared by Rim Country fire departments, explaining what homeowners can do to protect themselves from the single biggest threat to all of the communities of Rim Country.

Moreover, Payson recently landed a $300,000 federal grant, which the fire department will use to help residents evaluate their fire risk and clear dangerous brush and trees from around their houses. Only about 10 percent of the lots in Payson meet rigorous standards for such preparations. Most property owners need to remove half of their brush and trees to avert the tragedy that stalks us all.

We applaud Rim Country fire departments for their efforts to educate the public and Payson’s efforts to act now — instead of waiting for devastation and death to raise public awareness. We now hope that curiously inert councils and supervisors will also do their part, by quickly adopting firewise building codes.

Every year, wildfires consume about 3,000 homes — and kill about 20 firefighters, most of whom risk their lives to protect people who bought tinderbox houses in a kindling forest.

No doubt, when the flames come roaring out of the forest, it seems like an act God.

But as Bui’s house demonstrated, it’s really an act of foolishness by public officials who refused to adopt a sensible building code in fire country.

School override stakes enormous

Students sharing copies of decade-old civics texts.

Teachers juggling 30 or more students in a classroom. Emotionally disturbed kids, acting out and lost in the shuffle. Gifted students, bored and ignored and wasting their potential. Sick kids, with no nurse, shrinking athletic programs, dwindling electives. Children who think no one cares — teachers looking for other work.

Bit by bit, we’re getting a glimpse of what will happen if voters reject the Payson Unified School District’s desperate plea for the $1.2 million budget override.

Belatedly, proponents have mounted their campaign, with rallies, signs all over town and strategy sessions. But the ballots hit mailboxes next week and in all-mail elections, maybe a third of voters fill out their ballots immediately instead of waiting for election day on March 9.

So the fate of the override plea may be decided next week.

We hope that voters will rally behind the children of this community and the teachers who have devoted their lives to opening doors for other people’s kids.

The list of likely cuts keeps growing — after two years of tight budgets. It seems clear that the election asks voters whether they want to live in a growing, vibrant, varied, interesting and compassionate community — or a stingy town of stunted dreams.

So voters will have to choose.

The owner of a $200,000 house can vote “no” and save himself $7 a month, while sending the clear message to people who love this community that schools and children don’t matter.

That’s why we’re confident the override will pass.

This just isn’t that kind of town.

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