Forest Service Waits As Tragedy Beckons

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Ah, hindsight. So much easier than foresight. And so much less useful.

So as the smoke hung over the ruins of the twin towers, we wondered how anyone would have so tragically ignored airline security.

And when the Rim Country fire we dread finally roars out of the forest and traps a whole community in a needless tragedy we’ll all wonder why Gila County and the Forest Service just let it happen.

Either that or when the residents safely evacuate from the onrushing flames, we’ll look back to January 2010 as the moment we finally got it right.

Gila County over the years has approved the construction of 88 communities completely surrounded by thick, overgrown, fire-prone forest. Almost every one of those communities has just one way in, one way out — often a narrow dirt road with heavy vegetation encroaching.

Gila County has been politely and ineffectively nagging the Forest Service for years to approve an emergency exit for many of those communities. The cash-strapped Forest Service has mostly shrugged and cited higher priorities.

Fortunately, we’ve somehow staggered to the perfect moment to solve a deadly problem, with the smoke of the Water Wheel Fire, which forced the evacuation of Beaver Valley, still clinging to our clothes.

As part of its travel management plant, the Payson Ranger District has asked Gila County to come up with a list of possible emergency escape routes for potentially trapped communities.

We hope that Gila County officials will move quickly to comply and also come up with county funds and a way for residents of the affected areas to pitch in.

We can think of few equally urgent problems in this county. Many of those isolated forest communities could face tragedy in a matter of minutes, if a fire roars through those woods and blocks the single escape route.

In some cases, the solution is outrageously simple. In Beaver Valley, for instance, a bulldozer could create a second exit to Houston Mesa Road in a day — although years of polite requests for permission from the Forest Service have yielded nothing.

But never mind: No need to fight yesterday’s fire.

Now the opportunity glimmers. The Forest Service has said it would consider designating back doors to all of the vulnerable communities as part of the current Travel Management Plan — providing Gila County does the legwork.

Fine. Let’s just get it done.

Time for Gila County to fulfill the obligation it incurred when all of those fire-threatened developments were approved, deep in the woods.

A little bit of foresight now will avert the tragedy of hindsight when the fire finally comes.

Designated heroes behind the wheel

How do you define an optimist?

It’s someone who confronted with a roomful of horse manure explains happily: Must be a pony in there somewhere — or so said former President Ronald Reagan.

That works for us.

So we found ourselves oddly encouraged by the results of the holiday drunk driving checkpoints.

Granted, police arrested one out of every 236 drivers for drunk driving on their way into town.

Moreover, statewide police stopped 65,217 drivers between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and arrested 15 percent of those for drunk driving. Worse yet, the average blood alcohol level for those arrested rose 4 percent from last year.

So, what did we find encouraging?

Among the 1,200 motorists stopped at the Payson New Year’s Eve checkpoint, police arrested five for drunk driving and found a heartening 56, non-drinking designated drivers.

Way to go, guys — especially all you designated drivers willing to forgo a little fun to safeguard the lives of their friends.

Moreover, officers said many motorists inconvenienced by the sometimes long line at the checkpoint thanked the police for their efforts on a cold, holiday evening.

And that’s a heartening sign. Drunk drivers account for more than one-third of all traffic deaths, it’s time to stop the carnage.

And to thank those officers all through the long night — and those designated drivers, quietly saving lives.

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