Be in the know, it's still fire season

The White Mountains Community Firewise Block Party was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but the annual event is returning this Saturday, July 24 at Blue Ridge Elementary School from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. In 2019 even Smokey Bear attended.

PINETOP-LAKESIDE — Just because the seasonal monsoons have arrived in the White Mountains and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has rescinded fire restrictions as of July 16, it is no time to let down your guard when it comes to being wildfire savvy. We are still in fire season and on July 24 the White Mountain Communities Annual Firewise Block Party affords everyone the opportunity to learn how you, your family and neighbors can play a part in reducing wildfires.

Many in Navajo and Apache counties lived through the two largest wildfires in the State of Arizona, the Wallow Fire in 2011 which burned 522,000 plus acres and the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire in 2002 which burned 468,000 plus acres.

Evacuations took place during both fires, something residents and those fighting the fires will never forget.

The question residents need to ask themselves is, “What can I do to be prepared for wildland fire?”

In the fall of 2015 Pinetop Fire District Chief Jim Morgan had a vision plan to find a method which would inform the community about wildfire risk and answer that very question. His vision manifested itself in the summer of 2016 as a Pinetop Fire District community block party. The event was billed as such for a couple of years, but with partnership buy-in by key stakeholders and community champions, and recognition that wildfire was not just a Pinetop issue but a White Mountain issue, the event grew into what is now the White Mountain Communities Annual Firewise Block Party. It is hosted by the Pinetop and Timber Mesa Fire Districts.

The inaugural event, which began on the heels of the 2016 Cedar Fire, attracted 543 community members. Since that time each year the program has continued to draw between 300 and 400 attendees who want to learn about wildfire risk, evacuation preparedness and making their homes resistant to wildfire.

There was no event in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pinetop Fire District has been awarded multiple hazardous fuels reduction grants which help property owners thin their properties, reducing the wildfire risk by reducing the intensity in which fire will move through their property.

Committed property owners who want to take advantage of these grants can sign up on a list at Saturday’s event.

The list has been the driver for the grant awards and the development of the fire districts’ wildland fuels crew and wildland suppression module, a valuable resource that provides a seasonal force multiplier response which helps keep wildfires small while also being able to focus on community risk reduction through vegetation management or thinning.

This year the Pinetop Fire District was awarded a Targeted Wildfire Risk Reduction Assistance Grant from the International Association of Fire Chief’s (IAFC) and Ready, Set Go (RSG) program. The grant has three key components. The first is customized RSG guidelines. RSG guides are used as an educational tool to assist homeowners in creating their own action plan to help facilitate preparing their home to become more resilient to wildfire and preparing for evacuation long before the need arises. The second component, an evacuation tabletop exercise, was conducted on March 17. That exercise brought policy and decision makers together from a broad spectrum of agencies and organizations in an effort to develop, test, and improve evacuation planing in the community. The third component is for a demo day and that will be part of the July 24 Firewise Block party where they demonstrate vegetation management and home preparation.

According to Fire Marshal Chad Berlin, as a result of the annual event, 13 HOA communities now have the designation of being a Firewise USA community. That designation says that the HOA community is committed to reducing wildfire risk within their established HOA rules.

Topics of interest at this year’s event include homeowner Firewise information; creating defensive space; RSG Evacuation Preparedness; Landscaping Firewise Plants and Insects and Diseases common to the White Mountains.

Because this is a family event, a bit of fun has been added for youth and adults. There will be a bounce house, face painting, food and door prizes.

The event will take place Saturday, July 24 at Blue Ridge Elementary School, 3050 Porter Mountain Rd. in Lakeside from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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