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CHAPTER 26 - WHITE MOUNTAIN COMMUNITIES EMBRACE FIREWISE BY MIKE LEIBY

What exactly does Firewise mean?

Two members of the Pinetop Community Association (a homeowners association) Firewise Committee, webmaster Bob Stratman and president Gloria Mundy explained.

Firewise creates a defensible space around homes and structures. It is a mind set.

Pinetop Community Association

The Pinetop Community Association took the NFPA Firewise program to heart due to recent catastrophic wildfires such as the 2001 Rodeo-Chediski Fire, the 2011 Wallow Fire, the 2016 Elk Fire near Pinetop, and the 2016 Cedar Fire.

The Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow fires burned more than 1 million acres in Arizona and 15,407 in New Mexico. The Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow fires consumed 494 buildings. Thousands evacuated some permanently displaced from their homes.

Many firefighter deaths occur when crews take risks trying to protect poorly prepared forested communities, usually neighborhoods without a wildfire-adapted fire code or Firewise brush clearing programs. Photo courtesy Kari Greer/USFS
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The Elk Fire was a testament to forest thinning efforts and the Firewise program. It started at 10 acres the morning of July 23, 2016. It ultimately burned 1,887 acres when finally contained Aug. 3, 2016.

But because of thinning, the wildfire lay down where the thinning was performed.

Stratman said all of these things entered into the association’s decision to ask residents to Firewise. However, the HOA doesn’t enforce the guidelines.

White Mountain Summer Homes

Nearby, the White Mountain Summer Homes HOA decided in 2006 to become a Firewise community.

Firewise Committee Chairman Dan Kreiner said they also chose to use the NFPA program. Last year, the residents of the 866-acre development signed up for the same NFPA as applied in the Pinetop Community Association.

White Mountain Summer Homes uses a Community Wildfire Protection Plan that required cooperation with local fire departments, the Forest Service, local government agencies, community members, concurring agencies, county and local planning and zoning departments.

The SCWPP plan’s goals include:

• Improve fire prevention and suppression.

• Reduce hazardous fuels.

• Restore forest and riparian health.

• Promote community involvement.

• Reduce structural ignitability in the WUI.

• Encourage economic development from vegetative treatments.

• Encourage high-risk communities to become fire-adapted communities.

• Create regional fire councils.

• Reduce potential economic loss from wildland fire.

• Bring in money through national, state, and local sources.

• Support the growth of forest industry.

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Getting there required thinning on 449 lots to create a 65 percent open canopy, ongoing lot maintenance to remove ground fuels, ladder fuels, hazard trees, and ongoing inspections.

“Since 2006, more than 90 percent of the common area has now been thinned,” Kreiner said. “All homeowners have raked pine needles and leaves within 30 feet around the house.”

He said long-term goals include establishing a group of homeowners to take the lead in Firewise activities, conducting annual inspections and clearing vegetation from around LPG tanks.

They also conduct a Community Firewise Day in the fall.

Torreon

Torreon has no HOA rules or regulations specifically geared toward the NFPA program. Their bark beetle infestation, outdoor fire pit, and smoking rules do address fire safety.

“It is the responsibility of each owner to maintain their property so as to reduce fire danger and insect infestation. Each owner is required to remove and dispose of infested and dead trees,” the bark beetle rule states.

“Smoking is prohibited except in your vehicle with an ashtray or in your home. Fire pits are permitted, but must be approved prior to installation. Processed logs such as Duraflame or Presto Logs are recommended over natural wood,” the rule sheet states.

Top of the Woods

Greg Sharp is a member of the Top of the Woods Firewise Committee and an HOA board member. He said they use Firewise principles. Sharp said there are 56 lots in the neighborhood that was officially recognized as a Firewise Community this year.

He said the Cedar Fire had hidden benefits in spite of it creating havoc and fear last year.

Sharp said residents living at Top of the Woods had a real eye-opener when it approached within eight miles. After the fire, residents became serious about being Firewise.

One of the things Sharp did to drive home the concept of Firewise, was present homeowners with two photos: A thicket of shrubs and a house. “Which one do you want to keep?” he asked.

Last year, Sharp said the HOA started providing a free dumpster for residents willing to clean up to Firewise standards.

Sharp said the cost would likely be less than $200 per property to provide a lot of peace of mind.

When the Pinetop Fire Department spearheaded a grant effort, Sharp said he took advantage of it to remove approximately 20 trees from his half-acre lot.

He said because it was a grant that paid 90 percent of the cost, with a 10 percent match by the property owner, it only cost him $176 compared to nearly $2,000 it would have cost to thin his property and make it Firewise.

Sharp noted that becoming a Firewise community is not difficult but is well worth it because it can mean better insurance rates and more peace of mind.

For information on the NFPA Firewise program, visit www.nfpa.org.

Spark by Pia Wyer

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