Editor’s note: Ron Wright has invited the Roundup to follow him through the fuels reduction grant process. This is the second in a series to document the beginning, middle and end of the project managed by the Payson Fire Department.
The second step for Ron Wright to complete his Firewise grant — hire a contractor and clear the land.
But finding the right fit could overwhelm some homeowners. How do they know if a bid is reasonable? What makes one job harder than another? What questions does a homeowner need to ask to find the right fit?
The grant will pay 90% of Wright’s costs, so long as costs do not rise above $2,500 an acre. If the work requires more, the homeowner must pay the additional cost.
For Wright, it’s all worth it. He comes from Wyoming and knows the danger wildfires pose. Just after reducing fuels around his Wyoming home, a wildfire swept through. Firefighters thanked Wright for prepping his home so well.
“They told me they could have saved it, if needed,” he said.
After moving to Payson,Wright saw a social media post about applying for a grant from the Payson Fire Department to pay for Firewising. Wright applied immediately.
Wright received the grant, met with Kevin McCully, Payson’s fuels manager, to understand the next steps. The Firewise grant has limitations to ensure homeowners spend the money on clearing fuel effectively.
After receiving a suggested list of companies that do fuels mitigation, Wright decided Ben Perry of Rim Country Woodworx, worked best for him.
Perry has a love and an understanding of woods and trees, as deep as any farmer. He can look at an overgrown stand of forest and see how a fire would move.
Perry spent years working as a wildland firefighter based in Rim Country. He has stories from working on the 2017 Highline Fire when he set up sprinklers around forest communities below the Rim. He can imagine exactly which trees and brush would light up from an ember storm. He then estimates the amount of work his crew must do to clear the property.
For Perry, bids come down to three things, accessibility, the amount of fuel removed and the number of hazard trees.
With Wright’s property, a neighbor provided access to a utility road easement from Phoenix Street. Perry and his crew could then bring in their trucks, trailers and earthmoving equipment to remove the tons of brush generated by the job.
“With the chipper, we have to get it close to the work,” he said. “This job came to about $3,000 per acre.”
In one week, Perry and his crew removed 10 to 15 tons of brush and trees but saved the hazard trees for last.
Hazard trees run from bark beetle dead to trees sprouting up through a deck.
“The closer (hazard trees) are to a building, the more work to lower every piece of tree so it doesn’t hit anything,” said Perry.
The most expensive hazard tree to remove he’s seen cost $5,000.
But if bark beetles kill a tree, “timing is of the essence,” said Perry.
Wright told Perry a few dead trees clustered in his yard were vibrant green in the spring, but dead brown by summer’s end. Drought conditions and warmer winters ensure the beetle will continue to spread, said Perry. He tells homeowners if he can remove infected trees, those remaining will have more water to fend off the bugs.
In the end, Perry aims to provide the homeowner a good decade of clear forest, so long as brush is regularly maintained.
Because of Payson’s elevation, scrub oak, manzanita and other brush pops up every year requiring maintenance, while trees take longer to require more care, said Perry.
Rim Country Woodworx doesn’t just chip to remove material, said Perry.
“We have a state-of-the-art woodworking shop … we have a sawmill and wood splitters,” he said. “We can take this stuff and make firewood or lumber,” and even furniture.
Perry just wants a healthy forest, fuel adapted neighborhoods and a safe town.
“I’ll work with you, whatever you’ve got,” he said.
Even if it’s only a few hundred dollars, Perry will come to a home, make an assessment and do what he can to remove duff from gutters, branches from rooftops and brush six feet from the home.
“It doesn’t have to be a $1,500 job,” he said.
Once Perry finishes his work for Wright, he’ll get paid, and Wright will send the invoice to McCully. McCully will then come back to Wright’s house to document the work done, submit the paperwork, and wait until Wright receives reimbursement.