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Tue, April 20

Editorial: What’s my role in wildfire season?

Cleaning pine needles, leaves and branches from roofs, porches and decks reduces the chance of an ember catching a house on fire. (Stock photo)

Cleaning pine needles, leaves and branches from roofs, porches and decks reduces the chance of an ember catching a house on fire. (Stock photo)

Are you prepared in case of wildfire? Is your home protected? Do you know what to take in case you must evacuate?

These are all questions we should be asking ourselves as another year of extreme wildfire behavior prepares to kick off.

In preparation, Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week is working to get the public in gear — first by education and next by action.

You may ask why wildfire season is a big deal and what difference you could make in the big picture. The answer is it is a huge deal and you could be the one who makes the difference between saving or losing homes, property and lives.

What’s the big deal?

First, let’s look at a few numbers along with the outlook for this year’s wildfire season.

Over the years, fire activity has steadily increased.

In 2019, 1,869 wildfires burned 384,942 acres on all land jurisdictions in Arizona.

In 2018, 2,000 wildfires burned an estimated 165,000 acres.

In 2020, 2,520 wildfires burned 978,519 acres of state, federal and tribal lands.

Of those fires in 2020, wildland fire investigators say 82 percent were human-caused.

That’s a lot of fires and a lot of acres.

This year, fire managers are predicting another year of extreme fire activity going into the summer because of the overgrowth of fine fuels across the central part of the state and within the Sonoran Desert.

Right now, agencies across the state are mobilizing. They’re hiring and training wildland fire crews to mitigate and manage anticipated wildfires. Agencies prepare for wildfire season by putting crews through intense training regimes and ensuring equipment and apparatus are in working order. But they still need your help.

What can I do to help?

Many Williams residents either live in ponderosa pine forests, pinyon-juniper habitat or a combination wildland-urban interface. Preparation for wildfires can seem overwhelming and some even believe futile, but experts have found that taking even just a few precautionary measures can make a difference.

Residents can help protect their homes through home and yard upkeep and by creating defensible space.

Additionally, fire managers said homeowners can create defensible space in three zones.

Zone 1 extends about 30 feet from buildings, structures or decks. This includes removing all dead plants, grass and weeds in that area, and removing dead leaves and pine needles from the yard, roof and rain gutters.

Wood piles should be moved 100 feet from the home and vegetation should be moved from around and under decks.

Flammable plants and shrubs should be pruned or removed from near windows.

Zone 2 extends 100 feet out from buildings, structures or decks.

Grass should be mowed to a maximum height of 4 inches and there should be 10 feet of horizontal space between shrubs and trees. There should also be vertical space between grass, shrubs and trees to avoid ladder fueling. If possible, remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and other small branches to a depth of no more than 3 inches.

Zone 3 is the area beyond the home into the surrounding neighborhood

Neighborhoods should consider working with land managers to clear dense vegetation and thin trees. Ladder fuel removal should be considered. The goals of this zone are to improve the health of the wildlands and help slow an approaching wildfire. It also is an aesthetic transition between the more heavily modified Zone 2 and the unmodified surroundings

Residents can also help protect their homes by removing excess toys, patio furniture and other materials from around the home.

Coconino County follows the nationwide Ready, Set, Go! program that educates residents about proactive measures to take before an emergency and actions to follow when communities are threatened.

The three steps encourage Arizonans to get READY by preparing now for what threatens their community, be SET by maintaining awareness of significant danger and to GO, evacuate immediately when the danger is current and life-threatening.

This includes assembling an emergency supply kit ready to go that includes important personal items, such as prescriptions, medications, a first aid kit and extra clothing.

Homeowners should also sign up for text alerts from Coconino County and the city of Williams.

These alerts will be sent out in case of a rapid evacuation.

Anyone can sign up at www.coconino.az.gov/ready

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