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Firewise program Verde Communities fighting wildfires before they start

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Firewise Program

Verde Communities fighting wildfires before they start

It has been a tragic fire season in the west this summer with the deaths of a hotshot crew at the Yarnell Hills Fire in June and considerable property lost in that fi re and in California in recent weeks. The fire damage highlights what seems to be continued ineffective political efforts to initiate healthy forest programs aimed at reducing the intensity of fires and property damage as well as potentially save lives, according to the National Fire Protection Association. However, at the extreme local level, efforts by homeowners and neighborhoods to protect themselves from wildfire are proving enormously effective. The Firewise program, which is supported by the NFPA and state forestry agencies across the country, is giving people peace of mind that their efforts may help protect their property from fire. Firewise provides direction and assistance to local communities in creating defensible space between homes and wild land interface. Rio Verde and Tonto Verde are both proud Firewise communities. Firewise allows neighborhoods to obtain grant funding to have high risk fire areas cleaned up and made safer. Residents are able to use sweat equity for their own labor and the cost of having landscape work done. The two Verde Communities have created their own Firewise Foundation to financially support this ongoing effort. Rio Verde Fire District Capt. Mike Roggenstein is managing the Firewise effort in the Verdes. He said they are halfway through awarded grant funding for fuel abatement efforts. To date the effort has cleaned up about 12.26 acres of open desert that surrounds the Verdes. This is not total removal of fuels, just clearing and removing those with the highest risk of fueling a fire. The areas already cleared by the Verdes effort include the western boundary with McDowell Mountain Park. Roggenstein said the next phase will be to have the Rio Verde Ranch area improved. This is an area of heavy mesquite growth and a lot of dry grasses. “The bids are out for that work and that will take care of another 14 acres,” Roggenstein said. “This will protect the ranch facilities like the Saddle Club and the community cookout area. “This work should be done by December.” With the assistance of Rio Verde Services the Firewise effort is working with Tonto National Forest to bring in crews to work the eastern boundary between the Verde River and the communities. A study is being done to determine what needs to be done, according to Roggenstein. He notes that a portion of that boundary is against golf course fairways, which are an exceptionally effective defensive buffer. “That and the Ranch will complete the (buffer) around the community,” Roggenstein said. “Firewise community leaders are taking an active role in identifying areas within the community that need attention, such as washes and where clutter or debris might collect.” Beginning next year the Firewise effort will move into its maintenance role, Roggenstein said. They will be able to go back to where they started and take care of whatever improvements might be needed to mitigate fi re danger. Residents can learn more about the Firewise effort in November during the annual Firewise Day. Watch for more details on this event.

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