Residents of Pine and Strawberry can breathe a sigh of relief — the Pine Strawberry Fire Department (PSFD) has won renewal of a competitive grant from the state to resume private property brush removal.
“The state used to fund 10 grants, now just five,” said PSFD Fire Chief Dave Staub.
Focused on reducing property loss due to wildfires, the State Fire Assistance Program distributes grants to communities facing the highest risk of property damage.
Firebreaks and brush removal are a critical piece in the struggle to save houses from wildfires.
During the Wallow Fire, these fuel reduction measures saved the town of Alpine according to the Apache Sitgreaves Forest Service report, How Fuel Treatments Saved Homes from the 2011 Wallow Fire.
When the Wallow Fire reached the half-mile-wide fuel treatment zone outside of Alpine, the flames dropped to ground level, thanks to previous thinning projects.
Crews had removed groves of saplings that wildfires use to climb to the lowest branches of biggest trees. When the fire dropped from the treetops, it significantly slowed the rate of burn. Fire crews could then safely attack the fire and so saved the homes of Alpine.
Pine and Strawberry have a similar fuel break surrounding their communities, cleared mostly by Forest Service crews in the past five years. Adding to the firebreak, the Tonto National Forest Service, the PSFD and the citizen’s group the Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee, have increased the scope of their efforts to remove brush and small trees outside of the Pine-Strawberry communities to increase their safety.
The grant PSFD received will allow brush removal to continue on private land in Pine and Strawberry.
“We believe this is a community problem, not just a fire department issue,” said Staub.
The grant funds either the pick-up of brush a resident has removed themselves or a portion of the cost for a contractor to do the brush removal work, said Staub.
The PSFD has created a Web site full of information on the fuel management program for residents. (PSFD Web site: www.pine-strawberryfire.com)
PSFD also offers hazard assessments by trained and certified personnel from the Fuels Management program. These personnel come to a home and evaluate the risk of brush near the house that could catch fire and make suggestions on removal. Call PSFD for an appointment: (928) 476-4272.
PSFD has divided Pine and Strawberry into eight zones, four in each. Before moving to a new zone, crews will completely clear brush before moving on to the next.
The Web site and fire department explain how to cut, bag and prepare brush for pick-up. The PSFD asks that residents fill out a community worksheet to track hours worked. In order to qualify for a future grant, the PSFD needs to know how much time residents put into removing brush on their property. The fire department and Web site have community worksheets available.
Brush removal pick-up will resume in the New Year, said Staub. On average, it takes from four to six weeks to clear each zone.