May 2022
Not If, but When
Good prep work can save your home from wildfire

Last year we ran this piece to bring attention to the very real danger we face from wildfires, especially at this time of year. As I write this the Crooks fire is raging just south of us and winds are high and gusty. Revisiting firewise protocols is something we should all do regularly.

If you read Patrick Grady’s piece here last April (“Climate Change Risk Rising in Prescott”) you likely felt a little anxious afterward. It was a sobering assessment of the very great, very real risk of our area experiencing a major wildfire event, similar in severity to the Camp Fire, which devastated Paradise CA in 2019 and made headlines worldwide.

Patrick also pointed out that, unlike both Sedona and Flagstaff, Prescott has so far not developed a climate-preparedness plan, though City Council has agreed to at least consider working on one soon. It’s encouraging to see that we are starting to take this issue seriously, but there is also much that we as individuals can do to protect our homes and properties from wildfire should threaten our neighborhoods, and prepare for a quick evacuation should it become necessary.

We all love Prescott for the lovely weather and easy access to the beautiful landscape, which varies so rapidly from the rocky Granite Dells to the tall Ponderosas at slightly higher elevation. We like the shade our trees provide near our homes, especially as our summers are getting hotter. But trees near houses increase the risk of those houses burning down. USDA fire scientist Jack Cohen has developed a helpful graphic on the Home Ignition Zone, listing actions we can take to prevent wildfire from getting close enough to burn our homes.

1. Immediate Zone: Up to five feet from home

• Clear any vegetation from gutters and roof.

• Repair any roof damage.

• Install metal screening in vents.

• Repair broken windows and screens.

• Protection under decks (mesh screening or fencing).

2. Intermediate Zone: 5-30 feet out

• Clear vegetation from under any grounded propane tanks.

• Mow grass to 4” height.

• Create “fuel breaks” (altered vegetation, as in spacing or hardscaping, to control spread of fire).

• Clear “ladder fuels” (vegetation below trees) to a level that can’t reach crowns (cut to 1/3 of overall tree height).

• Space trees 18 feet apart at minimum, more on steeper slopes.

• Create breaks in shrubbery as well, and only keep in small clusters.

3. Extended Zone: 30-100 feet out

• Clear surrounding areas of all collected debris/litter.

• Remove dead plant material.

• Remove any conifers between trees.

• Remove vegetation surrounding secondary buildings.

• Ensure twelve feet of spacing between treetops at 30-60 feet, six feet of spacing at 60-100 feet.

* Spacing information based on NFPA 1144. Get additional information from local fire marshal to protect homes to highest degree.

So many homes and neighborhoods are more attractive because they have trees near the houses, but we enjoy that beauty at our peril, and we put our community at greater risk, including the elderly and the disabled, who may not be able to evacuate so readily, or own their own insured homes.

If a fire does get close enough to your home, remembering the ‘five Ps’ will expedite your evacuation:

• People • Pets • Pills • Photos • Important Papers

Consider packing a ‘go-bag’ with the above items and some clothes, dog food, etc.

Yavapai County has experienced some devastating wildfires in recent years, including the Indian Creek and Doce fires, which came very close to Prescott, and we all remember the horror of the Yarnell fire. Whiskey Row has burned five times in the relatively short history of Prescott, and there is no more cause to think that downtown is safer than any other neighborhood than there was to think the town of Paradise was safer than its wooded environs. As we learned in Yarnell, wildfires can move and change with terrifying speed, and increasing drought from climate change only increases the urgency of planning ahead. We can and should take steps to mitigate the loss of lives and property for the sake of Everybody’s Hometown.

Abby Brillis Associate Editor of 5enses. Laura Cummings contributed to this article.

Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses. Laura Cummings contributed to this article.

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