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Casem: You can help protect Arizona’s forests from wildfire


As our temperatures warm up, our fire activity across Arizona is picking up and we urge all Arizonans to be prepared and take preventative measures around their property, before it’s too late.

So, what does that mean to you?

Well, first, we ask that residents create defensible space around their home. Defensible space acts as a buffer between your property and a wildfire. While we urge residents to do their part, it takes a village to prevent fires and protect lives and property. And that’s where the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s fire prevention division can step in to assist.

Overall, the prevention program is responsible for community wildfire education and statewide outreach events. But they also lead the nationally recognized Firewise USA program for Arizona. Firewise USA serves as the backbone of DFFM’s prevention team and is also a direct connection to the agency our residents.

Firewise USA is a program that educates homeowners and organizes communities to prepare for wildfire by strengthening residents’ homes and property making them more resilient to fire.

In 2021, Arizona ranked third in the country for new participants. DFFM brought on board 12 new Firewise USA communities, including Pine Lake in Kingman, Terravita in Scottsdale, and Tonto Hills in Cave Creek. In all, Arizona has 117 active Firewise USA sites across the state.

Population growth and relocation to traditionally natural, or wildland areas, as opposed to urban sites has created a complex landscape known as the Wildland Urban Interface or WUI. These WUI locations are prone to fires spreading from the wildland into communities; igniting a home then spreading to other structures quickly overwhelming fire suppression resources.

Firewise USA focuses on mitigation and prevention actions prior to a fire start to reduce losses. The goals of the Firewise USA program focus on lessening potential fire intensity by reducing the structure’s ignitability and managing the vegetation around the structure itself.

Firewise USA benefits through homeowner collaboration, but it all starts with you! Start with your own home and encourage your neighbors to do the same. The weather outside is nice and the time is now to get outside and get to work. In most cases, general yard maintenance can keep your property protected. In fact, seasonal maintenance is key.

Tasks should include removing debris like pine needles and leaves from roofs, gutters and decks. Be sure to retreat wood siding and wooden decks, install screens in attics, gable vents, and crawl spaces. These tasks will prevent embers from getting into those spaces. Seal cracks, gaps and crevices. Embers can enter a home through small openings and have proven to be the cause for destroyed or damaged homes.

Manage your immediate landscaped areas by creating five feet of separation around the perimeter of the structure. This includes, trimming grass and ensuring shrubs are pruned and irrigated. Plus, it helps to thin, limb and separate brush and trees. Combustible material such as wood piles, propane tanks, even barbecue grills should be stored at least 30 feet away from the structure.

You are not alone! DFFM prevention officers are available for individual home and community assessments. They can provide a “home ignition zone” assessment with recommendations for the homeowner to use to prepare their property for the upcoming increase in wildfire activity.

There is no “wildfire season” in Arizona anymore. We can have a fire start at any time of the year, and our best advice is not to wait until you see smoke in the air. Prepare your property now and protect those things that are most important to you and your family.

And always remember, especially if you live in the WUI, if working at home and using tools that may throw sparks, have a water source nearby and use a spark arrester. Grinding, welding, even barbecues have started wildfires.

Please pay attention to the weather and clear your area of grasses and other fine fuels where you plan to work. Take personal responsibility and do your part to prevent wildfires.

Editor’s note: Aaron Casem is a fire prevention officer at the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. Learn more at: dffm.az.gov.