The residents of Pine and Strawberry continue to lead the way when it comes to protecting their community from wildfires.
Dedicated community volunteers working with the Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee have for years scrambled for grants and worked with the Forest Service to not only clear a buffer zone around the community, but to help homeowners clear the brush and thickset trees that pose a grave danger to the entire community.
For some years the committee took advantage of state and federal grants to help residents haul away brush and trees trimmed on their property. Only a cleared, defensible space around the whole community — and each house — will prevent a crown fire from one day roaring in out of the thick, surrounding forest.
Alas, the state and federal grants have dried up. That’s reckless — and irresponsible — considering that the desperate danger the community faces originates mostly in the surrounding federal lands. As a result of a century of forest mismanagement, tree densities have grown from perhaps 30 per acre to about 1,000 per acre.
But Pine and Strawberry have rallied as the state and federal governments have faltered.
One group has worked with tireless dedication on a network of trails that can both create a natural firebreak and provide a way for fire crews to quickly reach small fires before they grow out of control. The trails also have helped build the little community’s reputation as a wonderful place to go hiking or mountain biking.
The Fuel Reduction Committee has also raised more than $14,000 to at least temporarily resume the brush pickups — although a Gila County charge to dispose of the brush in the landfill could eat up much of that money.
The residents of Pine Strawberry — who turned out for the Fuel Reduction Committee meeting this weekend — are doing what the people of every single community in Rim Country must do to protect the places we love.
Residents must rally behind a Firewise approach — and insist that both Payson and Gila County adopt building codes that will minimize the chances that a forest fire will roar right through town — rushing from treetop to treetop, from rooftop to rooftop.
So we hope the Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction Community will not only raise money, build trails and educate residents — we hope they will crusade and organize and harangue until the Payson Town Council and the Gila County Board of Supervisors do their part to protect our communities.