With the threat of wildfires and campers trashing up the forest, Whispering Pines decided to do something.
Thanks to a partnership with the Payson Ranger District, the Whispering Pines Fire District (WPFD) launched a volunteer Fire Patrol Program.
Every weekend, from the beginning of May through the end of September, fire personnel and volunteers travel the roadways and trails around the district’s communities, stopping at every occupied campsite.
They distribute materials on fire restrictions, local wildlife, weather, emergency services and trash disposal. The program proved its worth over the Memorial Day weekend without a single abandoned campfire reported.
The WPFD Auxiliary provides a large dumpster at fire station 71 in Whispering Pines where campers can throw their trash.
“This is a huge benefit to both the Forest Service and the public keeping the north end of the Tonto NF much cleaner and reducing fire risk,” said Angie Elam, district ranger with Payson-Pleasant Valley Tonto National Forest.
It took four years to get to this point, but results have validated all the effort, said Ron Sattelmaier, Whispering Pines Fire District chief.
Over Memorial Day weekend, campers dropped off 50 cubic feet of trash at the fire station that would have ended up in the forest.
“Our program really works,” he said. “I hope it can be a model that could be used around the country to inspire similar partnerships between the Forest Service and the local fire districts or other community organizations. The best way to look at a problem is to get outside the box.”
While the trash program has been a huge success, so has the fire education. A volunteer foot patrol checks for illegal and abandoned campfires in the woods and on private property.
Currently, no fires are allowed in the forest or in unincorporated areas of Gila County, including on private property.
“Some folks still do not understand that these restrictions apply to private property and we continue to find violations to the county open fire ordinance,” he said.
Due to the extreme fire danger, the WPFD is performing fire patrols Fridays starting at 7 p.m.
For May, the group found six illegal fires, two on private property.
“The safety of our communities demand that we take an aggressive and proactive approach to eliminating this threat to our district.”