Fuel Break Can Help Protect Community In Middle Of The Forest

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The Christopher Creek fuel break is a circular swath of land on Forest Service property entirely around the Christopher Creek community. The swath is approximately 330 feet wide and totals about 388 acres. In that swath, all undergrowth has been cut down, as well as smaller trees that would enable a fire to “ladder” to the tops of the taller trees, resulting in a very dangerous, fast-moving and difficult to fight crown fire. By removing the fuel, the low-growth trees and bushes, a fuel break is created. A fuel break can help protect a community in the middle of a forest.

In March 2007, Jim Oliver convened a meeting of representatives of the four homeowner groups that make up Christopher Creek — Christopher Creek, Hunter Creek, See Canyon and The Brooks. Jim had been contacted by Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin who had funds available to cut a fuel break around Christopher Creek if we could match her $50,000. The original committee consisted of Karl Mann, Hunter Creek; Jennifer Kiley, See Canyon; Karen Thornton, Christopher Creek Homeowners Association; and Gary Anderson, chair; and Jim Oliver, representing the C-K Fire Board.

The committee took on the challenge and started making plans to raise the money. Direct appeals to property owners, appeals to businesses, golf tournaments, a concert, donations for silent auctions, ice cream and brats sales were all some of the mechanisms used to raise the matching funds.

By April, the FireBelles joined the fund-raising efforts with Jack Kalmar, treasurer, serving as keeper of the fuel break funds. Phyllis Agnew, Sandy Kalmar and other Belles planned many activities to coincide with Memorial Day 2007. It was truly a communitywide effort. Property owners were encouraged to “buy” a quarter of an acre of fuel break costs by donating $350. Many “bought” a half-acre and donated $700.

We had to meet the challenge. We had to raise the $50,000. Did the Kreekers do it? You bet. More than $88,000 was raised. The committee voted to set aside the excess monies for future maintenance of the fuel break.

Throughout the entire process, Jim Oliver served as liaison with the Forest Service and Supervisor Martin’s office. Don Nunley of the Payson office of the USFS provided invaluable assistance. And, of course, Tommie Martin started the ball rolling with her challenge to us.

Recently Jack Kalmar suggested we look into fuel break maintenance. With Jack’s careful attention, the original fund balance was now in excess of $50,000. Gary Anderson contacted Don Nunley of the Forest Service and Don agreed that the time was right for maintenance, i.e., the removal of re-growth. Don said that our funds were not sufficient to complete the entire job. He spoke to Martin about it and she said she might be able to help. Gary Anderson contacted her office with the plan and confirmed she would assist us with nearly $4,000 to finish the maintenance job.

The new contract has recently been signed, Don Nunley lined up the crew and they have been working on the maintenance for nearly two weeks. The newly cut re-growth will largely be left where it is cut. The brush and wood-piles that remain from the original fuel break cut will eventually be chopped up.

The fuel break maintenance cutting has been going on for nearly two weeks. It will soon be finished. The results of the cutting of the re-growth is perhaps most easily seen along the road up into See Canyon. The amount of re-growth since the original cut is surprising.

Many, many people contributed their energies, time, money and expertise to creating, and now maintaining, the Christopher Creek fuel break. Everyone in the community thanks you and special thanks are due to Supervisor Tommie Martin and Don Nunley.

Judy e-mailed me from her phone asking me to please thank those that have supported her. “I would like to thank all my friends in Christopher Creek and Sky Run Resort for all the cards, flowers, food, and help while I was in the hospital and rehab. I still have a ways to go and hope to be walking on two legs soon”

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