Last year, after experiencing one of the snowiest winters on record, we experienced three serious wildfires in our area. The first, Eagle Rock, burned north of Parks for several days in mid-June, eventually burning over 3,000 acres and requiring the commitment of hundreds of firefighters to suppress.
Then, even as this fire continued, the Hardy Fire broke out here in town, consuming nearly 300 acres right at the back door, literally, of Little America. Despite forcing the evacuation of many and an entire week to fully suppress, damage was limited, primarily because forest thinning activities had occurred previously in the area into which the fire moved.
Then, the big one – Schultz. Both the fire itself and the myriad of secondary effects, which continue, have left an indelible imprint on our community.
Wildfire is a natural part of the ponderosa pine ecosystem. We cannot stop it, nor should we try. But, the type of fire that historically burned in our forests is not the type of fire we are experiencing today, and it is not the type of fire that our forests, or our community, can survive.
So, what are we to do? First, we must recognize that our forests need our assistance. A century of fire exclusion, the accumulation of too much downed fuel, thick unnatural forests, climate change, and a host of other variables have left our forests vulnerable to destruction and our communities prone to fire, flood, and other events that threaten our very well-being.
Second, that wildfires can and will strike. Yes, primarily in the late spring and early summer, but also year-round, depending upon conditions. So, be careful with fire.
Third, that selective small-diameter tree cutting is needed and low-intensity controlled burns, done when conditions warrant, are a necessity.
Fourth, we must prepare. The Flagstaff Fire Department and other local fire agencies are available upon request to assist with property inspections, provide FireWise recommendations, plan and/or conduct necessary tree cutting, brush disposal, and controlled burn operations, and even offer cost share funds to do so. (For more information, contact the Flagstaff Fire Department at 928-779-7688 or visit www.flagstaff.az.gov/wildlandfire.)
Finally, we must act. That is why, as mayor, I’m particularly proud of those in the community who have banded together to form recognized FireWise Neighborhoods, of those who are doing the work, day in and day out, necessary to reduce the risk of destructive wildfire, of our partnerships with many local, state, and federal agencies, and of our active involvement in both the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership (www.gffp.org) and the newly emerging Four Forest Restoration Initiative.
We have much to be proud of; we have much work to do. But rest assured, our community safety and welfare is, and will remain, our joint priority. FBN