In the wake of a string of fires nearby that could have caused a regional conflagration, residents of Gisela this week pleaded with Gila County Supervisor Mike Pastor to provide more services — and better fire protection — for the small, unincorporated community south of Payson.
Tucked back on a windy road against the banks of the Tonto Creek, not much happens in the unincorporated area south of Rye. That suits most residents just fine, but a handful on Saturday pleaded with a county supervisor for some help.
Making his first trip to the area since starting his second term, Pastor listened for more than an hour, but offered few assurances.
The residents sought help in forcing homeowners to clean up blighted homes, maintaining the roads, providing a water bladder to put out fires and landing grants to help them Firewise their yards.
Residents decried yards full of trash and debris — an environmental hazard or brush fire just waiting to happen. They also complained about trailers and a defunct steakhouse in need of demolition.
The fire department, which has a few old trucks, said it needs a water bladder at the minimum and ideally, a fire hydrant. Currently, the fire department has no readily available source of water for fighting fires.
Steve Stratton, director of the county public works, said Gisela could soon receive a 10,000-gallon bladder — which holds as much as three or four fire pumper trucks.
The county has several dozen bladders stationed around the county available to fire departments and the Forest Service.
Just recently, the county put a 50,000-gallon bladder in
Rye after a fire in a salvage yard spread to a trailer park, destroying several homes. The Payson Fire Department sent water tender trucks shuttling back and forth to Payson throughout the night for refills, nearby Deer Creek and Rye lack fire hydrants or water storage tanks, since they have no fire department. The Forest Service, Payson and Hellsgate fire crews that did show up mostly focused on keeping the fire from spreading to tinder dry brush. A brushfire in Rye or Gisela could easily spread up the slope to Payson, driven by winds rushing up from the desert.
Stratton said the county had looked at putting a bladder in the area for the last year and finally found a spot to put it after the fire.
The county gets most of the bladders for free through military surplus Web sites with the help of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, after paying for shipping.
Stratton said a 20,000-gallon bladder could cost roughly $4,500 new, so getting them practically free is great for the county.
While Stratton would like to give Gisela a larger bladder, many of the 50,000- and 20,000-gallon bladders are getting older and may only last another year. He said he would not want to put one in only to turn around and take it out.
Besides needing water to fight fires, residents expressed concern about escaping the area if a fire does occur. Currently, one paved road leads into Gisela and several other dirt roads lead out. Residents said passenger vehicles can’t make it down some of those escape routes.
Four years ago, Gila County pleaded with the Tonto National Forest to create escape routes for a number of isolated communities, including Beaver Valley and a string of subdivisions along the Control Road. At that time, Tonto Forest administrators said they would make provision of such escape routes part of the imminent release of a Travel Management Plan. However, Tonto Forest then decided to do an environmental impact statement on the plan to overhaul its road system and limit cross-country travel. That has left communities trapped without a back door escape route through four fire seasons.
Pastor repeatedly said he would look into one issue or another and report back, saying he hadn’t heard many of the residents’ complaints before.
“If we don’t know about it, we can’t do anything about it,” he said.
Pastor suggested they organize a community group charged with gathering information and sending questions and complaints to him and the county.
The residents asked how they should go about organizing such a group. Pastor said they could start with the present group and select a few people to head it up, including Gisela resident Hope Cribb, the Town of Payson’s finance manager.
Cribb asked if the county had money to help residents Firewise their homes similar to the programs in Pine and Payson. Pastor said he would contact the Forest Service.
Residents asked if the county had money to pave some of the roads. Pastor replied that only 180 of the 700 miles of roads in the county are paved. Residents then asked him to at least grade the roads, but again Pastor could only promise to report back.
He also rejected a plea for a brush pit where residents could drop off brush and trees removed from their property. He said perhaps if residents could come up with $100 for a Dumpster, the county could empty it.
Although he couldn’t promise anything, Pastor said he was happy to meet with residents and do what he could.
One resident said the consensus among many was that Gisela taxpayers were not getting the same bang for their taxes. While they live in an isolated area, they are still part of the county and want services.