We’re hoping the Payson Town Council study session on adopting a wildland-urban interface fire code was some kind of very elaborate joke.
It’s just gotta be. The more we think about the immediacy of the danger — and the lameness of that discussion, then it sounds like a joke.
Oh, those councilors: Such a sense of humor. And what a deadpan. Flawless. Never gave it away or broke character. Worthy of “The Daily Show,” no doubt.
After four years of barely having enough on the agenda to bother with a council meeting, the councilors finally took up the one threat that could destroy this whole community — wildfires.
They each got a 1,000-page briefing book on an elaborate overhaul of the entire building code. This included a section on the fire code in general — and the international WUI (wildland urban interface) code in particular.
The Payson Fire Department strongly recommended changes to the town’s building advisory board. But that citizen committee back in April deadlocked — some wanting to simply adopt the thick, international WUI code, some wanting to make Payson-specific modifications.
Time slipped past. Yarnell burned. The Granite Mountain fire crew died. The U.S. Forest Service continued to squander the opportunity of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, trying to find a contractor.
Finally in December, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans handed out a thick binder full of building code revisions — including staff-proposed modifications of the international WUI code to adapt to conditions here.
The code has all kinds of changes essential in a community surrounded by thick forests in a decade that has seen the average number of acres burned double. The code would provide rules that would allow the town to require thinning on dangerously overgrown lots. The new code would ensure new buildings have fire-resistant roofs as well as eaves, porches and ventilation openings designed to ensure embers raining down into town from a distant wildfire don’t start a holocaust in town.
So what did our town councilors say four months after getting their briefing books and 10 months after the building advisory board deadlocked on the urgent recommendations of the fire department?
Several confessed they hadn’t actually read the modifications.
Councilor Richard Croy said he’s worried developers won’t come if we make them build to Firewise standards.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said he’s worried the new code will make him water his trees when they’re critically dry in the midst of the fire season.
Councilor John Wilson said he doesn’t want to make developers jump through so many hoops.
Councilor Michael Hughes said he doesn’t want to clear trees and brush from his property, so he doesn’t think he should make developers do so on new lots.
Councilor Ed Blair said he doesn’t like giving the fire chief and the fire marshal so much power. (Not to worry: The town’s been without a fire chief for six months and the council eliminated the fire marshal position last year supposedly to save money.)
See what we mean? They can’t be serious.
Very funny guys. You really had us going.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans at the end of the jaw-dropping session suggested the town take a look at the wildland fire code provisions Flagstaff, Prescott and others have already adopted. Councilors also thought maybe they could get builders to voluntarily build to Firewise standards — and maybe get homeowners associations to voluntarily clear brush and tree thickets.
Hopefully, that will lead the council to discover how well those codes are working in other cities — and how much citizens support dealing with the terrible danger wildfire poses to this community.
We know that this council can’t possibly ignore on such flimsy pretext the single greatest threat to the community they’re so dedicated to serving.
But we got to admit, guys: You really had us going.
So, please: Crack a smile and tell us what you’re really going to do.
Then we can all have a good laugh — and get down to business.